Global Food Prices Reached Dangerous Level - World Bank chief Robert Zoellick  | 44 million in Extreme Poverty

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank chief Robert Zoellick on Tuesday said global food prices have reached "dangerous levels," and warned that their impact could complicate fragile political and social conditions in the Middle East and Central Asia.

World Bank data released on Tuesday showed higher food prices -- mainly for wheat, maize, sugars and edible oils - have pushed 44 million more people in developing countries into extreme poverty since June 2010.

"There is no room for complacency," Zoellick told a conference call. "Global food prices are now at dangerous levels and it is also clear that recent food price rises are causing pain and suffering for poor people around the globe."

Zoellick said although higher food prices were not the main cause leading to recent protests in Egypt and Tunisia, it was an aggravating factor and could become worse.

He warned that a sharp rise in food prices across Central Asia could also have social and political implications for that region.

The World Bank report comes days before a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in France where higher food prices and the reasons for those upward spikes will be discussed.

Zoellick also said he was concerned that as countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan address causes of their social upheaval, higher food prices may add to "the fragility that is always there any time you have revolutions and transitions."

The World Bank chief said the international community needed to be aware of such risks and should not exacerbate problems by imposing policies, such as export bans or price fixing, that would push global food prices even higher.
"There is no silver bullet to resolving the potent combination of rising and volatile food prices," Zoellick said, "but food security is now a global security issue."
Catastrophic storms and droughts have hurt the world's leading agriculture-producing countries, including flooding and a massive cyclone in Australia, major winter storms in the United States, and fires last year in Russia.
Zoellick said a World Bank team was currently in Tunisia taking a closer look at the country's transition and assessing possible financing needs, including for food assistance.

He suggested that Egypt may not need World Bank funds because its financing situation "is one that should be able to be managed" over the short term.