World

Plummeting food aid: WFP urges more to combat hunger

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - James T. Morris, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme today warned the US Congress that the world was not doing enough in the battle against hunger.
"While WFP funding has risen, global food aid has not," Morris continued."In fact, during the last three years it has actually dropped by a third from 15 million to 10 million metric tons (1999-2002). Emergency food aidneeds are up and food aid is down. More funds are essential. All the major donors need to make a political commitment to a food aid system that works and is not dangerously reliant on surpluses, last minute appeals or a single donor."

"We have succeeded in averting famine and starvation in emergencies like those in Afghanistan, North Korea and Africa so far, but we still have a gigantic task there. Equally, much more needs to be done in the battle against the chronic hunger that bedevils the lives of hundreds of millions of people - who are not the victims of war or natural disasters," said Morris.

Among other things, he called for "stronger and more consistent funding for humanitarian aid."

WFP's Executive Director, who took over the world's largest humanitarian agency last year, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that hunger today was rooted in politics: "There are really no obstacles to prevent us from ending hunger soon - other than lack of political will. There is more than enough food worldwide. People are hungry because governments have made the wrong political choices."

During his four-day trip to Washington, D.C., Morris will also address the House International Relations Committee on February 27, where he will remind his audience that with more than 800 million people chronically hungry in theworld, rising food aid emergencies mean "the worst is yet to come."

Up to the early 1990s, WFP used most of its food aid in food for work,nutrition and education projects to help the chronically under nourished people, but in recent years it has been forced to become an "ambulance service for the starving" because of natural and man-made disasters. Nearly 80 percent of WFP current operations are emergency-driven.

Calling for more funding to feed more children at school, he said: "If weare to make a real difference and bring down the number of hungry people inthe world, we must start with more commitment to school feeding projects.The three hundred million hungry children cannot wait for good governance,sound investment and even the wisest of aid projects to reach their villages and towns."

Morris noted that hunger was still the greatest threat to life. Despite poverty being reduced by 20 per cent worldwide during the 1990s, the number of hungry people (excluding China) actually rose by 50 million across the developing world. Added to this, the number of victims of natural disasters has tripled compared to the 1960s, averaging 136 million a year - and the poorest among them need food assistance.

Morris cited weather as a major cause behind many food crises. The scaleof WFP's activities has risen in line with increasingly abnormal weather phenomena. The past two years have brought the highest number of weather related disasters in the decade. Against a backdrop of an alarming trend of declining official development assistance for agriculture - from US$14 billion in 1988 to barely US$8 billion in 1999 - any hope of food security for future generations is dependent on massive new investment by governments.

WFP's Executive Director noted that HIV/AIDS has wreaked havoc on the food security of Africa. "In many poor communities, the first thing AIDS victims ask for is not medicine, not money, but food for their families, food for their hungry children," said Morris.

"For those AIDS victims lucky enough to receive medical treatment, nutrition is critical. For the HIV positive, good nutrition is crucial in helping them ward off opportunistic infections and stay productive as longas possible," said Morris, adding that more than 11 million children areorphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, there are some grounds for optimism: "The international community has successfully countered potential famines now for nearly two decades,"said Morris, giving as an example the US Agency for InternationalDevelopment (USAID), which has been particularly generous and aggressive in fighting hunger. The US, the largest single contributor to WFP, donated US$917 million worth of food to various WFP operations around the world in2002 - more than 50 percent of all donations received by the agency.

Morris will address the National Press Club on Wednesday, February 26at 3 p.m. regarding international humanitarian aid, and he will address the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the impact of HIV/AIDS on food security. The WFP chief will also meet with members of Congress and officials of the US State Department.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. Every year WFP feeds around 80 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-6513-2602
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP/Geneva, Tel.+41-22-9178564
Khaled Mansour, Public Affairs Officer, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1+202+653-0010
Jordan Dey, Public Affairs Officer, WFP/New York, Tel. +1+212+963-5196