Oxfam: Soaring food prices threaten millions

Millions of people in East Africa are being pushed into starvation and destitution due to rocketing food prices, a UK charity warned today.

Oxfam said spiralling costs have combined with successive droughts, violent conflict and endemic poverty to leave up to 13 million in the region in urgent need of aid.

In the face of a potential catastrophe, the poverty campaign group called for immediate action and increased donor support to avert the coming crisis.

Food costs have soared in recent months, with the cost of imported rice in Somalia rising by 350% since the beginning of last year.

Areas of Ethiopia have seen the price of wheat more than double over a six-month period.

It is estimated that in those two east African nations alone there are an estimated 7.2 million people in need of emergency assistance.

In Turkana, northern Kenya, an Oxfam survey suggests that a quarter of children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Rob McNeil, who has just returned from the region as part of an Oxfam team, said: "This is a catastrophe in the making. We have time to act before it becomes a reality.

"The cost of food has escalated by up to 500% in some places, leaving people who have suffered drought after drought in utter destitution.

"Some of the roads we travelled on were littered with dead livestock."

He continued: "People are increasingly becoming desperate. I saw people in one village reduced to pounding the food pellets intended for their animals into porridge to feed their families."

Oxfam has called on international donors to increase aid levels to the region, noting that a UN appeal for emergency assistance for Somalia has received only 37% of funding needed.

Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking said: "Chronic poverty in a world of gross inequality of wealth and opportunity lie at the heart of these cyclical crises. Both governments in the rich and poor world need to invest in a concerted action to tackle the underlying causes.

"We need to act to save lives in the short term but without investment in the long term as well, then the scenes of destitution will continue to haunt our shared conscience."

A spokesman for the Department for International Development said: "Too many people around the world are going hungry tonight because of increases in food prices and that is why this Government has already committed over £800 million to help avert this crisis.

"Much of this is going on immediate action to supply food in East Africa where people are most in need but also on longer term measures to improve countries' ability to cope with increases in food prices and droughts in the future.

"We know there is more to do and so we will continue to work with other countries to provide support to Africa during this difficult time."