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UN to help offset high food and oil prices
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    ROME — The U.N. will provide $214 million in food assistance to 16 impoverished areas to help ease the effects of high food and oil prices, its food agency said Tuesday.
    Nearly 1 billion people worldwide — particularly in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean — are struggling to survive the rise in food and oil prices, the World Food Program said.
    The aid mainly will go to pregnant women, undernourished children and people living in urban areas hardest-hit by the food crisis. The Rome-based agency said it also will purchase food assistance locally in some countries, which will help farmers.
    ‘‘Our action plan is targeted and customized to help the most vulnerable meet their urgent needs,’’ said Josette Sheeran, the agency’s executive director.
    Some $110 million will target Horn of Africa countries, where the high prices worsen a situation already made difficult by drought and political instability, the agency said in a statement.
    Prospects are particularly dire in Somalia, which is nearing a disaster situation comparable to the famine of 15 years ago, the agency said. The WFP is aiming to double the amount of food it delivers in the country to reach 2.4 million people by December.
    The WFP also is targeting Ethiopia, where it says more than 10 million people are suffering the consequences of the drought.
    The remaining $104 million will be directed to 14 countries where food is unaffordable and discontent among populations is high, including Haiti — where rioting over food turned deadly in April — Afghanistan, Liberia and Mozambique.
    In these 14 nations, the agency is expanding school feeding programs and giving additional care to pregnant women, as well as implementing cash transfers and food-for-work programs. The WFP hopes to help 11 million people in these countries.
    The high food prices also are affecting WFP itself.
    The operational costs of the world’s largest humanitarian agency have ballooned, the agency said. Its base budget for 2008 has risen from $3.1 billion to nearly twice that amount.
    The base budget is the funding necessary to reach 90 million people worldwide this year, but the agency has so far only collected half of the required sum.

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