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European Union Unveils Biggest Food Aid Package Ever

The European Commission has announced its most significant food aid package ever to help feed the world's hungry as food prices rise across the globe.

Farmer in Africa

Food prices soared in 2007, driving the World Food Program to request more donations

The Commission said it would allocate 160 million euros ($243 million dollars) to alleviate hunger in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

"Vulnerable people in many of the world's poorest countries are increasingly exposed to natural disasters, conflict and economic pressures that can rapidly lead to situations whereby people go hungry," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said on Tuesday, March 4.

"The European Union has an essential role in providing them with food aid, and in restoring food production," he added.

A malnourished child holding up a spoon to its mothers

Droughts can devastate harvests

The United Nations' World Food Program is to manage the aid, which is to target 18.7 million of the world's most vulnerable people living in countries or areas such as: 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.

It is the largest funding decision of its kind by the commission's aid department, Michel said.

More than just food

In addition to food aid for populations in need following natural disasters, epidemics, or armed conflicts, the aid package is to also include more long-term support including seeds, tools and fertilizers.

Commission officials said the executive may allocate more funds later in the year, with the possibility of digging deeper into emergency reserves if necessary.

"Our concern is to avoid financial drought. This may not be a tsunami or an earthquake but price inflation still generates humanitarian needs," European Commission aid spokesman John Clancy told a news briefing.

Prices soared in 2007

A malnourished man receiving treatment at a Doctors without Borders clinic in southern Sudan

For some, it's either food aid or death

The aid comes after a warning by the World Food Program that it will have to cut food donations to some poor nations if donors do not contribute more soon to help counteract soaring commodities prices.

The commission noted that world wheat prices had shot up by 81 percent during the course of 2007.

Such price rises are the result of a variety of factors, including bad harvests, higher oil prices and an increase in the production of crops used for the production of biofuels, which are viewed as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to gasoline.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the Rome-based World Food Programme, appealed last week to members of the US Congress and the Bush Administration to help meet a 329 euro ($500 million) shortfall for the fiscal year 2008.

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