Burundi + 5 more

Targeting civilians in wars triples demand for food aid as new century begins

ROME - A dangerous shift in the way wars are being fought has triggered huge new demands for food aid, but it is uncertain that donors will be able to meet these demands in the new century, Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme said today.
Bertini, head of the world's largest food aid agency, signalled that civil strife has been the major factor in pushing food aid requirements in Asia and Eastern Europe up by more than 300 percent. Although donors have been generous, funding 90 percent of all WFP's emergency appeals for food aid, Bertini said that the new demands may challenge donors' ability to provide additional resources.

New patterns of conflict are creating an unprecedented number of victims who depend on food aid to survive, said Bertini, who cited the growing tendency for combatants to target civilians.

"More combatants are using starvation and forced, often violent, displacement as weapons of war, strategies that aggravate the large-scale food needs of civilians trapped in conflict," Bertini said.

She also expressed concern about the "alarming and outrageous" trend among combatants of killing and kidnapping humanitarian workers. WFP has lost more staff to violence world-wide than any other UN agency. This year alone, six WFP staff members died in the line of duty, including a logistics officer who was fatally shot in Burundi together with a UNICEF official.

Bertini also noted that an upswing in natural disasters continued unabated in 1999, producing, for example, floods in Venezuela and Mozambique and an earthquake in Colombia. WFP, which handles about 40 percent of all food aid globally, launched emergency operations in response to all these disasters.

"It is alarming to see just how many different factors have contributed to increasing the need for food aid," Bertini said. "We have had to respond to everything from feeding the victims of ethnic cleansing to feeding the homeless after an earthquake or flood."

"In the new century, it is going to be incumbent on humanitarian agencies to be as efficient and focused as they can," Bertini said. "The evolution of humanitarian crises and emergencies is going to put even greater demands on both the people who give money for humanitarian aid and the people who deliver it."

WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 1998, its relief workers fed 75 million people, including most of the world's refugees. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, WFP has food aid operations in 80 countries.

For more information please contact:

Francis Mwanza, WFP/Rome
Tel. +39-06 6513-2623

Brenda Barton, Regional Information Officer, WFP/Nairobi
Tel. +254-2-622594