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WFP Struggles Under Financial Weight of Food Crises

Displaced families in CAR carry 25 kg bags of maize, distributed by WFP.
Displaced families in CAR carry 25 kg bags of maize, distributed by WFP.

Funding shortages have led the World Food Programme to announce cuts to food rations in countries including Haiti, Kenya, Mali and Niger. The UN organization says it needs an extra $1 billion to meet the food needs of people around the world.

The need for food aid has increased in Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and across the Sahel have increased over the past few months. However, the agency has struggled to gain access to and meet the demand for some of the most desperate people in Syria and the CAR.

A new appeal to assist an estimated 20 million people across the Sahel region of West Africa requires $2 billion. The arid belt is particularly vulnerable to drought, leading to higher rates of food insecurity and malnutrition.

More than half of the money, $1.115 billion, is intended to address food security and nutrition. The appeal estimated that 5 million children are affected by acute malnutrition, with 1.5 million of that number suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The World Food Programme (WFP) will work alongside other UN agencies to address the problems faced by people living in the Sahel. More money is needed to ensure that the UN can undertake an appropriate response. Only 60% of the $1.72 billion UN appeal for the Sahel was fulfilled last year.

The challenge is to get donors to increase overall spending, rather than simply diverting budgets to each emerging crisis. WFP head Ertharin Cousin traveled to Australia to meet with government officials and drum up more financial support for the agency.

“Donors target their funds and when donors target their funds it means that [to fund]Syria, those same donors – it’s the same pie, so they cut their funds in other places,” she said to AFP.

Non traditional donors, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have made an impact on the crisis in Syria, but the UN still relies on its more traditional donors.

“[The new donors] are beginning to come, we received a donation at the end of last year from China as well as from Saudi Arabia for our programs in Syria, but we’re hopeful that they will become much like Australia, a regular reliable donor,” she said.

Meanwhile, the agency is struggling to reach an estimated 6.5 million people who need food aid inside Syria. It includes some 45,000 families living in Hassaka province who have not received food aid in more than a year. WFP managed to alleviate that problem with airlifts from Iraq in December, but they come with the hefty coast of $800,000.

“What that means is that we can provide less food to fewer people when we use resources that should be going to feed people to pay for airplanes,” said Cousin.

Carrying a total cost of $40 million per week, WFP is in need of more money immediately.

A similar problem exists in the Central African Republic. WFP trucks carrying food aid are unable to enter the country, keeping aid from more than 1.3 million people who are food insecure. The lean season, when food from the previous harvest runs out, will soon set in for some regions this month, which the UN estimates will lead to an increase in need.

The financial woes of the WFP underscore the importance and the fragility of hunger. African leaders adopted a commitment to end hunger across the continent by 2025, at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“Africa is witnessing economic growth of unprecedented proportions, but it is also the only continent in the world where the total number of hungry people has gone up since 1990,” said Food and Agriculutre Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva.  “The challenge now is to transform the vision of a food-secure Africa into reality by tackling the multiple causes of hunger.”

In the Sahel appeal, the UN argued that now was the time for donors to take the steps that will enable permanent change in the region and realize food security.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]