GENEVA (AP) — The former South Carolina governor who now heads the U.N.'s World Food Program says the media's focus on President Donald Trump is taking away attention from the risk of famine in Africa and the Middle East.
"This is not fake news, this is reality," said WFP Director-General David Beasley.
Beasley, a Republican whose March appointment was supported by the Trump administration, spoke to reporters Monday after his organization and the U.N. refugee agency updated an appeal for $1.4 billion to help refugees fleeing South Sudan.
Beasley cited a need to "rise above all the confusion," particularly in "high-donor states" like the U.S.
"I mean literally if you turn on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN — it's nothing but Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump!" he said, referring to U.S. TV networks. "And very little information about the famines in Syria, northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen."
"We've got to break through all of the smoke," he said. "This is not fake news, this is reality."
The U.N. says roughly 20 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are facing possible famine. Refugee agency UNHCR says South Sudan has become the source of "the world's fastest growing refugee crisis," with some 1.8 million people — including 1 million children — seeking safety in six neighboring countries. Nearly 900,000 are in Uganda alone.
"So we're making an appeal today for the donors to step up to the game even more," Beasley said, warning about access difficulties likely in the upcoming rainy season in South Sudan, amid already-difficult access caused by violence in the world's newest country.
He said that before agreeing to take the job, he had canvassed Congressional leaders to gauge their commitment to WFP, and found it "tremendous." But he also alluded to speculation about future U.S. funding. The Trump administration has proposed cuts for U.N. programs as part of its plan to reduce the State Department's budget by roughly one-third.
Beasley said the U.S. government's supplemental appropriations bill last week "stepped up with $990 million in famine relief," he said, acknowledging that 2018 funding "is going to be a dogfight."