Budget shortfall threatens UN’s ability to feed millions worldwide

Fighting hunger

30 July 2009 – Millions of hungry people around the world will not receive food aid from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) due to a “dangerous and unprecedented” $3 billion budget shortfall this year, the head of the agency has warned.

WFP is hoping to reach 108 million people in 74 countries this year with food aid, but it expects to receive only $3.7 billion of the $6.7 billion needed for 2009.

“We are actively cutting $3 billion of our programme – which means a reduction in rations and programmes throughout the world, including those to the world’s most vulnerable people,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told reporters yesterday in Washington, ahead of meetings at the White House.

In Bangladesh, for example, the agency sought to feed 5 million people this year, but must now cut back to reaching only 1.4 million, with a school feeding programme only feeding 70,000 children out of the original target of 300,000.

Ms. Sheeran welcomed the recent $20 billion pledge to boost global food security made by the so-called Group of Eight (G8) nations, which shows the industrialized world “takes the food security issue seriously.”

But she cautioned that “we must also keep pace with growing emergency needs. The problem is not all about agricultural yields; the challenge is people cannot get access to food – whether because of poor infrastructure or because they can’t afford it.”

The food crisis is still raging in the developing world, where high food prices are exacerbated by the impact of the current financial crisis, WFP said.

Data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that in most developing countries, food prices are higher today than they were one year ago, at the height of the food crisis.

The WFP head was in the United States capital to urge policy-makers to keep urgent hunger needs as a high priority as they find long-term solutions to food security.

She also called for the upcoming Group of 20 (G20) gathering in Pittsburgh, United States, to “take action not only on the financial crisis, but on hunger.”

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