updated 8/12/2008 9:38:47 AM ET 2008-08-12T13:38:47

A U.N. food agency said Tuesday that it will provide food assistance worth $214 million to help ease the effects of high food and oil prices in 16 troubled spots.

The World Food Program said almost 1 billion poor people across the world struggle to survive amid the higher prices. The agency is trying to reach those in critical need of assistance in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

"Our action plan is targeted and customized to help the most vulnerable meet their urgent needs," said Josette Sheeran, the agency's executive director.

The plan will provide assistance to groups such as pregnant women, undernourished children and people living in urban areas hardest hit by the food crisis. The Rome-based agency also hopes to help support farmers in countries where emergency food can be bought locally.

Some $110 million will target Horn of Africa countries, where the high prices added to a situation already made difficult by drought and political instability, the agency said in a statement.

Prospects are particularly dire in Somalia, which risks, according to the agency, as a disaster comparable to the famine there 15 years ago. The WFP aims to double the amount of food it delivers in the country to reach 2.4 million people by December.

Food riots
The WFP also is targeting Ethiopia, where it says more than 10 million people suffer 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. These countries include Haiti — which saw deadly food riots 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 aims at helping 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 statement said. The agency's base budget for 2008 has risen from $3.1 billion to nearly twice as much. 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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