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. EU announces biggest-ever food aid package

by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) March 4, 2008
The EU Commission on Tuesday announced its biggest ever food aid package, to alleviate hunger among the world's poorest, and warned swiftly rising prices could yet force it to increase the amount.

"Vulnerable people in many of the world's poorest countries are increasingly exposed to natural disasters, conflict and economic pressures," said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel.

"The European Union has an essential role in providing them with food aid, and in restoring food production," he told reporters as the 160 million euro (243 million dollar) package was unveiled.

The funding decision is the largest ever of by the commission's humanitarian aid department and more money will be allocated later in the year, Michel said.

The aid will be targetted at "priority locations"; Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, the Sahel countries of northern Africa, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Colombia and the Palestinian Territories.

At the same time the Commission expressed concern that rising food prices could cut into the package, which was decided last year, and that inflation itself posed a major humanitarian problem to the world's most vulnerable.

"It may not be a tsunami or an earthquake, but inflation exacerbates humanitarian needs and we have to make sure that a financial drought doesn't take place," said Michel's spokesman John Clancy.

He added that extra funds could be found, perhaps from an emergency fund, to ensure that the package does not losing its "purchasing power".

He cited the price of wheat, which he said had shot up by 81 percent last year.

The EU's executive arm estimates that around 18.7 million people will benefit directly from the aid, including children and young mothers, refugees and areas hosting refugees.

Food price rises have been fuelled by record oil prices and rising consumption levels in emerging economies such as China and India where eating habits are changing, plus a relatively poor harvest.

As well as food aid to distressed populations in the aftermath of natural disasters, epidemics, or armed conflicts, the aid will also take the form of more long-term support including seeds, tools and fertilisers.

Most of the projects will be implemented by the UN World Food Programme.

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Darfur: Beijing envoy says world can do more
Khartoum (AFP) Feb 27, 2008
China's special envoy to Darfur on Wednesday urged the international community to step up peace efforts in the war-torn region and advised its ally Sudan to do more to cooperate with world powers.

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