UN: Anxiety felt by rich and poor

Rich and poor nations have more in common this year – a growing sense of economic insecurity, the U.N. says in an annual survey of world economic and social trends released Tuesday.

Their shared anxiety is largely due to “trade shocks” from rising oil and food prices, rattled financial markets, natural disasters and armed conflicts, the report said.

As usual, though, it is the impoverished who fare worse.

“The food riots that broke out in a number of countries in early 2008 have laid bare the fragility of economic livelihoods for those at the bottom of the development ladder,” the report says.

It lists 35 nations that need help because of a food crisis, led by Iraq, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Somalia and Lesotho, where food insecurity is greatest because of drought and windstorms or floods and, in some areas, fighting.

Sha Zukang, the U.N. undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs, suggests “a global New Deal” or Marshall Plan-like approach to establish a “global social floor” for the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day.

Under the plan, nations would set aside cash grants that nations could pay to each household, something along the lines of the dividends paid to Alaskans each year since 1980 from oil and gas money.

“Such measures are, of course, fraught with complications and difficulties,” he says in the report.

“And asking at what level and with what resources this could be pursued as part of a wider security agenda remains an abstract policy point,” Zukang said.

“The broad thrust of the argument is to make a plea for international cooperation,” said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, U.N. assistant secretary-general for economic development.

Two big natural disasters struck in May alone.

Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar killed at least 84,000 people and left almost 54,000 others missing.

The devastating earthquake in China killed 70,000 people.

The cyclone's effects also imperiled Myanmar's rice production.

In China's Sichuan province, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says the earthquake caused around $6 billion in damages for farmers and killed millions of farm animals.

An estimated 30 million people in rural Chinese communities were affected, many losing most of their assets.