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UN agency steps up efforts to help Haitians cope with food crisis

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said it is stepping up efforts to assist Haiti, where the rise in food prices has compounded the suffering of millions and led to deadly riots earlier this year.

Some $23 million in new funds will enable the agency – which is already assisting more than 800,000 Haitians – to expand its operations in the small Caribbean nation, where three-quarters of the population live on less than $2 per day.

During the course of the summer, WFP is planning to provide 200,000 school-age children with hot meals and take home rations to prevent them from joining street gangs or searching for work.

“Our food is critical to helping people cope with high prices – a daily burden on people who were already very poor,” said WFP Regional Director Pedro Medrano.

Haitians are highly vulnerable to increases in food prices. The country imports over 50 per cent of its food, including rice which is a staple in the diet, and households spend more than half their incomes on food.

WFP is aiming to reach some 2.3 million people with food aid by the end of the year. The agency still needs more than $61 million to cover the country’s needs for 2009.

Ahead of a high-level summit last month in Rome on the global food crisis, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for renewed efforts to help Haiti deal with the impact of the surge in food prices, warning that failure to do so could set the country back in its efforts to promote stability, recovery and development.

“If we allow this crisis to go unchecked, much of what has been achieved over the past four years in Haiti could easily unravel,” he noted.

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