Unprecedented demand for food aid, says U.N.

Published - September 24, 2014 12:13 am IST

A top official of the World Food Programme (WFP) has said that it is unprecedented that the U.N. aid agency finds itself simultaneously responding to half a dozen major crises in addition to helping the largest number of refugees in the world since the Second World War.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, said in an interview on Monday that the number of people who need food aid continues to grow and the demands are overwhelming the donor community (led by the U.S. which has given the WFP $1.6 billion) which has been “incredibly generous.”

Affected areas There are currently four top-level humanitarian crises (Iraq, Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan) as well as hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and more than 50 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people scattered around the world, she said.

Because of funding shortages and increasing demands from the four crisis countries, refugees, and countries hit hardest by Ebola, Ms. Cousin said WFP has been forced to cut some rations and distributions.

WFP is funded from donations and over 90 per cent of its budget comes from governments, many of whom have their own financial and domestic challenges. “So we are imploring them to continue to dig deep because we live on a very small planet and we cannot prioritise one hungry child over another,” she said.

Even in Syria, where WFP in August increased the number of people receiving food to 4.1 million after working for years to increase access, “we’re going to need to cut rations to those people we’re supporting inside Syria (and) to cut the size of the vouchers to those Syrians who are refugees outside Syria,” she said.

Ms. Cousin said in the last two months that the Syrian government and the Opposition have begun to respond to WFP requests for more access which has led to increased aid deliveries across conflict lines in the country. Humanitarian convoys are also crossing into Syria through two checkpoints in Turkey and one in Jordan, as authorised by the U.N. Security Council, she said.

The WFP can’t get into areas controlled by the Islamic State militant group, which controls a large swathe of eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, but the agency has been able to get some food in through local non-governmental organisations or the Syrian Red Crescent, though not enough. Local NGOs tell WFP that “they are very concerned, particularly about minority populations and minority religious groups, and their access to food and water and other non-food items,” she said.

WFP is currently reaching approximately 8,80,000 people in Iraq and is aiming to reach 1.1 million, she said, adding that the Iraqi government also needs to resume operation of its public food distribution system.

In West Africa, Ms. Cousin said WFP has been working with the World Health Organization since March to provide food to those needing medical treatment for Ebola.

The agency is currently helping 1,85,000 people and is working to scale up to one million people so that people in affected areas can be isolated and still receive food and water, while those people needing treatment are identified, she added.

The Executive Director also said WFP helped avert a famine in the Central African Republic and hopes to avoid one in South Sudan where there has been no planting season.

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