Responding to skyrocketing global food prices, President Bush asked Congress on Thursday for $770 million in emergency foreign aid targeted at the neediest in the developing world.
The announcement was welcomed on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) promised that Congress would "respond rapidly to the growing urgent need for international food assistance."
Food aid agencies commended the plan's flexibility and support for long-term agricultural sustainability, but they said more needed to be done to avert a humanitarian crisis.
Bush couched his announcement in a broad call for free trade, saying other countries will be asked to undo rules that limit food exports to the developing world. The Doha round of trade negotiations is a possible way to reduce food prices by allowing for more exchange of goods, he said.
Global food prices rose 43% between March of last year and this year, Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisors, said in a conference call with reporters. He blamed the jump on the rising demand for food, higher energy costs, bad weather and the growing use of ethanol, which is made from corn.
Because high food prices disproportionately affect those with the lowest incomes, the developing world is being hit hardest, experts said.
"If children don't get enough to eat, they're more likely to get sick and die," said Mike Kiernan, a spokesman for Save the Children. "This crisis raises the real possibility that recent gains in reducing child mortality could be stalled or reversed."
Oxfam, the international relief agency, praised the plan for allowing groups that distribute food aid to buy more from farmers in the affected regions instead of from the United States, where it needs to be shipped overseas.
Last month, Bush ordered $200 million in emergency food aid through an Agriculture Department program, the Emerson Trust. But, he said Thursday, "more needs to be done."
Of the money requested, $395 million would go toward traditional emergency food aid, $225 million for a disaster assistance account, and $150 million for a multiyear development effort.