Robert Zoellick cited rising food prices as the main threat to poor nations who risk “losing a generation”.

He was speaking in Washington at the end of the spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

At the Washington meetings, turmoil in the Middle East, volatile oil prices and high unemployment were also discussed.

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn raised particular concerns about high levels of unemployment among young people.

“It’s probably too much to say that it’s a jobless recovery, but it’s certainly a recovery with not enough jobs,” he said.

“Especially because of youth unemployment… there is now a risk that this will be turned into a life sentence, and that there is a possibility of a lost generation,” he said.

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