WFP seeks cash to avoid food aid cuts

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 25 February 2008 11:53 GMT

As international food prices continue to rise, it's getting more expensive to provide food aid. Not surprisingly, the U.N.'s World Food Programme is feeling the pinch.

The Financial Times reports that the agency responsible for alleviating hunger is considering "cutting the food rations or even the number of people reached" if donors don't stump up more cash to help it cover rising budget needs in the short term.

The newspaper says the WFP's funding requirements are rising by several million dollars a week as food prices climb. "Our ability to reach people is going down just as the needs go up," WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told the FT.

The agency has raised this problem with the governments and private donors that provide its funds, and is hoping to avoid any cuts. "Before we talk about cutting rations or the numbers of people we assist, we will be asking them to make up the deficit," a WFP spokesman in London told AlertNet. "We will need more funds and we are counting on our traditional donors."

As Sheeran pointed out in a speech earlier this month, WFP has been raising the alarm since June that the world is facing a "perfect storm" of challenges, with soaring global food and oil prices, increasingly severe weather shocks (due partly to climate change) and declining global food stocks. "The world's hungry are being hit hardest in the developing world," she told the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

What's of particular concern to the U.N. agency is that countries reliant on imported food will have to pay about a third more for the cereals they bring in this year. As that's reflected in domestic food prices, it's squeezing urban middle-class populations. They are having to choose between buying less or lower-quality food for their families.

"We are seeing a new face of hunger in which people are being priced out of the food market," Sheeran says in the FT. That raises the prospect of a potential new caseload for the WFP in countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The agency usually assists people affected by sudden disasters, or by food shortages in rural areas of poor countries. In 2006, its emergency operations provided food aid for 63.4 million people caught up in humanitarian crises.

Having to help wealthier groups who can no longer afford enough food because it's become too expensive would be a different type of challenge - and one that WFP would need extra cash to meet.

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