WASHINGTON — Rising food prices have pushed about 44 million people into poverty in developing countries since last June, the World Bank warned Tuesday.
Food costs are continuing to rise to near 2008 levels, when price spikes in food and oil had devastating impacts on the poor, the development lender said, noting its numbers were released ahead of a Group of 20 finance chiefs meeting this week.
"Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world," World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a statement.
"The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food."
According to the bank's latest Food Price Watch, prices rose by 15 percent between October 2010 and January 2011.
The report came ahead of a two-day G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors scheduled to open Friday in Paris.
Zoellick told reporters that the report "underscores the need for the G20 to put food first."
"The Bank?s Food Price Index shows food prices are now 29 percent higher than they were a year ago and only three percent below the peak of the last food crisis in June 2008," he said in opening remarks in a media conference call.
"Clearly, this is serious cause for concern."
The bank highlighted that food inflation swelled the ranks living in extreme poverty, which it defines as under $1.25 a day per person. This results in people having less to eat, and rising malnutrition, according to the report.
"This year is shaping up to be a very tough year for the chronically malnourished," Zoellick said.
"We know high and volatile food prices are a potent force," he warned, citing food riots in 2008.
"While not the primary cause for the political instability we see today in the Middle East, rising prices have nevertheless been an aggravating factor that could become more serious."
The World Bank cited two key factors that have prevented even more people falling into poverty: good harvests in many African countries have kept prices stable and moderate rises in global rice prices.
The anti-poverty lender said its Global Food Crisis Response Program is helping some 40 million people in need through $1.5 billion in support.
In a December 2008 report, the bank's economists estimated that 105 million people had been pushed into extreme poverty, at the time fixed at $1 a day per person.
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