UN: Global food needs are outstripping donor generosity

AP News
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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 6:04 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the U.N. food agency said Tuesday the overwhelming humanitarian needs in crises from Syria, Yemen and Iraq to South Sudan and Africa's Sahel region are outstripping the generosity of donors, and it is seeking new sources of money.

Ertharin Cousin said in an interview with The Associated Press that the World Food Program is not facing "donor fatigue."

In fact, traditional donors have been more generous, she said, but food needs have escalated because of an increasing number of refugees, people caught in conflict, and suffering from climate-related events including drought.

Cousin welcomed new donors including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea, and expressed hope they will increase contributions to WFP — and hope that increased funding by China will continue.

Last year, she said, WFP needed $8 billion and received a record $5.4 billion. This year, it also needs $8 billion but she predicted the agency will receive less, close to $5 billion because donors have had to respond to even more demands from other U.N. and non-governmental organizations handling humanitarian crises.

Cousin said WFP is looking at new sources of funding including the private sector and individuals as well as the possibility of creating a fund like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which would provide a steady source of money, especially to address protracted conflicts like Syria where initial donor support drops off.

She expressed hope that the increased focus on migrants from Syria who are fleeing to Europe will step up donations for the 9.8 million Syrians in the country in need of food, and massive numbers of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

WFP is working to feed 4.2 million people in Syria monthly and has gotten food to around 4 million, but not the same people all the time, she said.

As a result of a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing cross-border deliveries of humanitarian aid, Cousin said the number of Syrians helped via these deliveries has increased from 50,000 to around 800,000 a month. But she stressed that food aid is erratic in those border areas, and no aid is getting to areas controlled by the Islamic State extremist group in Raqqa where the militants have their de facto capital and neighboring Deir el-Zour.

Cousin, who visited Yemen in August, recently said the impoverished strife-torn country is "one step away from famine levels" — and she said that assessment hasn't changed.

WFP's goal was to scale up to help 2.5 million people in September, she said, but because of continued bombings, fighting and difficulty getting trucks into conflict areas it will only reach 366,000 people in Yemen this month.

According to WFP, 12.9 million Yemenis don't know where their next meal will come from and shortages of clean water are causing an increase in diarrhea and other waterborne diseases and aggravating malnutrition rates.

Cousin said some boats carrying food and humanitarian items are getting into Yemeni ports, but 11 aid trucks have been detained by Shiite rebel fighters known as Houthis at a checkpoint north of Taiz city since last week. WFP said as a result of negotiations between the U.N. and the Houthis, the trucks are supposed to proceed to Taiz city on Wednesday.

Cousin said the situation in Yemen, where 90 percent of food has traditionally been imported, is complicated by gasoline shortages and the dwindling availability of food to purchase for those who can afford it, which has increased prices, she said.

"Right now I would say we're at about 30 percent of where we want to be," she said.

In Iraq, Cousin said a lack of funds is forcing WFP to cut rations, staff, the size of vouchers given to those in need, and the number of people it helps monthly from 1.8 million to 1.5 million.

WFP said it has received only $90 million, or 28 percent, of the $323 million it needs in Iraq for the period from May to December this year. The five largest contributors are the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and the European Union.

She said the agency has appealed to the Iraqi government for access to food from its Public Distribution System and has gotten "some limited access" but far from enough to avoid the cuts.

Elsewhere, Cousin said WFP is monitoring the level of food insecurity in Ethiopia, indications of growing pockets of malnutrition in South Sudan's conflict-wracked Unity State, and potential malnutrition and food shortages in northeastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger where the Boko Haram extremist group is operating causing thousands of people to flee.