Page last updated at 01:14 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 02:14 UK

World Bank offers $1.2bn food aid

The World Bank's managing director says the funds will be made available shortly

The World Bank is to offer immediate financial help to countries worst hit by sharp rises in food prices as part of a $1.2bn (608m) assistance package.

Grants worth a total of $200m are being set aside for "high priority" countries most at risk from acute hunger.

Haiti and Liberia will get $10m each to feed their most vulnerable people while Djibouti will receive $5m.

The World Bank says 100 million people could be impoverished by the rising cost and scarcer availability of food.

It has also identified Togo, Yemen and Tajikistan as being in need of immediate assistance following recent needs assessments.

'Immediate danger'

"It is crucial that we focus on specific action," said World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

Robert Zoellick
We just have to make sure we get the resources and coordinate the operations around the world
Robert Zoellick

"These initiatives will help address the immediate danger of hunger and malnutrition for the two billion people struggling to survive in the face of rising food prices."

Countries will be able to access money to provide food for schools and other core services as well as to buy essential items such as seeds and fertilizer.

The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the money is part of a fast track programme to address immediate requirements in the global food crisis.

Some of it will be used to handle immediate humanitarian needs, for example for pregnant woman and young children.

The World Bank will also devote an additional $2bn next year to funding agricultural projects, including crop insurance schemes.

Mr Zoellick said: "This is not an issue like HIV/Aids where you need some research breakthrough. People know what to do.

"We just have to make sure we get the resources and coordinate the operations around the world."

A United Nations report published on Thursday warned that prices for key staples such as wheat and beef could remain inflated for many years.

A world food summit is scheduled to be held in Rome from 3-5 June.

On Friday, representatives from 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries will also meet in Caracas, Venezuela, to discuss concerns over the rising cost of food.

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