Warnings of a water and food crisis seemed incongruous among the lavish hospitality of Davos this year, but the danger was stressed repeatedly to the assembled world elite.
Scarcity of water was named by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a top priority at the World Economic Forum and he warned that conflicts lay ahead if the provision of the vital resource could not be assured.
Advertisement"Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon," he said in a speech on Thursday.
Ban reminded the gathering of the world's wealthy powerbrokers in Davos that the conflict in Darfur in Sudan was touched off by a drought. "Too often where we need water, we find guns," he said.
Rising food prices are also causing problems in emerging countries, with demonstrations and violence witnessed in a host of countries including Mexico and African nations Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal.
Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath warned earlier in the week that prices of some foodstuffs had doubled in his country at a time when 25 million people in India were estimated to have moved from taking one to two meals a day.
"What does 25 million people moving from one to two meals a day do for prices?" he asked a room of corporate bigwigs and policymakers who pay thousands of dollars to attend the exclusive get-together here.
Referring to the challenge of providing food at affordable prices, he said: "Next year in Davos we'll be discussing this."
Analysts forecast that world agricultural commodity prices are set to increase, particularly for cereals because of increased export taxes in many producers, strong global demand, a poor harvest in Australia this year and stepped-up speculation.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick also sounded the alarm, saying the cost of the basic nutritional requirements of people in many countries, mainly in Africa, was rising sharply.
"There are fifteen countries particularly vulnerable to high food and energy prices. We need some targeted efforts towards those vulnerable populations," he said.
Increased cultivation of crops for the production of biofuels, such as corn and sugar, has led to higher prices for staple foods in many countries and led to criticism of the new fuel source.
Biofuels, which were initially hyped as a "green" solution to the world's energy needs, drew criticism from the chairman of the UN's Nobel Prize-winning climate change panel.
"Wherever the production of fuels is going to conflict with the production of food, particularly in a world in which food prices are going up... obviously we are running into difficult territory," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri told reporters.
"In general, I am not entirely happy with the diversion of areas for the production of food into the area of production of fuels."
The chief financial officer of Brazil's state-run energy group Petrobas, Almir Barbassa, argued that market forces were at work and farmers could not be told what to grow.
Brazil is the world's biggest producer of sugar cane, which can be used to make the biofuel ethanol as well as sugar.
"With the price of oil going up it is better to use sugar cane to produce ethanol than to use sugar cane to produce sugar," he told AFP.
"Farmers have the right to do what they want with their products. It's the choice of producers, not a choice of the markets."
The annual Davos gathering in the Swiss Alps drew about 2,500 delegates, including about 30 heads of state, for five days of debating and networking. It wrapped up Saturday and concludes officially on Sunday morning.
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