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IMF Head: Food Shortages Can Spark War

The head of the International Monetary Fund warned Friday that soaring world food prices can have dire consequences, such as toppling governments and even triggering wars.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn told France's Europe-1 radio that the price rises that set off rioting in Haiti, Egypt and elsewhere were an "extremely serious" problem.

"The planet must tackle it," he said.

The IMF chief said the problem could also threaten democracies, even in countries where governments have done all they could to help the local population. Asked whether the crisis could lead to wars, Strauss-Kahn responded that it was possible.

"When the tension goes above and beyond putting democracy into question, there are risks of war," he said. "History is full of wars that started because of this kind of problem."

Strauss-Kahn was appointed last year to head the IMF. He was a finance minister in the late 1990s in France.

Also on Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested a global partnership among financial institutions, governments and the private sector to tackle the reasons for rising food prices. He also said France is doubling its food aid budget this year to about $95 million because 37 countries are experiencing "serious food crises."

Globally, food prices have risen 40 percent since mid-2007. The increases hit poor people hardest, as food represents as much as 60-80 percent of consumer spending in developing nations, compared to about 10-20 percent in industrialized countries, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has said.

The World Food Program blames soaring food prices on a convergence of rising energy costs, natural disasters linked to climate change, and competition for grain used to make bio-fuels like ethanol.

Program spokesperson Benita Luescher told CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, "What we're seeing is a perfect storm."

Meanwhile, officials said Thursday that United Nations programs will distribute 8,000 tons of food and other help for Haitians in coming days as part of efforts to confront unrest over rising prices that set off recent rioting.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said food provided by the World Food Program will focus on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers in the north, west and central regions of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Anger over surging food prices has threatened stability in the Caribbean nation, which has long been haunted by chronic hunger. Haitian lawmakers fired Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis over the rioting.

Mamadou Bah, spokesman for the U.N. country team in Haiti, said the 8,000 tons are available stock and will be distributed over the next two months starting Thursday.

The U.N. Children's Fund will double its child feeding program to combat malnutrition and spend some $1.6 million on water and sanitation projects in the northwest and Artibonite regions, Montas said.

Globally, food prices have risen 40 percent since mid-2007.

Haiti is particularly affected because it imports nearly all of its food, including more than 80 percent of its rice. Once productive farmland has been abandoned as farmers struggle to grow crops in soil devastated by erosion, deforestation, flooding and tropical storms.

Protests and looting in Port-au-Prince left at least seven dead last week, including a Nigerian officer in the 9,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force who was pulled from a car and killed Saturday. Three Sri Lankan peacekeepers were injured by gunfire early last week.

Brazilian members of the U.N. peacekeeping force distributed 14 tons of rice, beans, sugar and cooking oil to 1,500 families in the capital's sprawling Cite Soleil slum Tuesday.

The World Food Program and the U.N. mission in Haiti continue to support various projects aimed at creating jobs, Montas said. Some 2,500 Haitians are already employed by these projects which have a combined budget of $2.3 million, she said.

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