The UN secretary-general sounded a warning about rocketing food prices, saying it has developed into a “real global crisis”.
“This steeply rising price of food — it has developed into a real global crisis,” Ban said, adding that the World Food Programme (WFP) has made an urgent appeal for an additional US$755 million to “fill the missing gap” so it can carry out its humanitarian work.
WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said on Thursday the UN agency is facing a 40 per cent increase in the cost of food since it prepared its $3.1 billion budget for 2008. The budget provides food for refugees and internally displaced people in places like Darfur, and victims of natural disasters. WFP usually helps between 80 and 90 million people a year and it is entirely funded by voluntary contributions.
It appealed for an additional $755 million to cover the rise in prices but has only received 63 per cent — about $475 million, she told a video news conference from Rome with UN correspondents in New York.
If donors don’t provide the remaining $280 million, Sheeran said, “we will need to be rolling back in the coming weeks our core work that’s already assessed and already decided”.
“So we are in a situation of making some heartbreaking choices,” she said. “We are really going through our programme and looking at where the greatest vulnerability is and which programmes we can keep whole until we can raise that full amount.” At the same time, Sheeran said, higher food prices have led to requests for aid totalling $418 million — including $77 million to help feed “2.5 million newly urgently hungry people” in Afghanistan “who were not assessed as hungry before” and new Iraqi refugees in Syria and elsewhere.
That brings WFP’s needs for 2008 to $4.3 billion. The agency’s New York spokeswoman, Bettina Leuscher, said so far it has received just $1 billion. WFP is also bracing for new requests for food aid from countries that are unable to deal with the sharp rise in food prices, like Haiti, that will require millions of dollars in additional funding, Sheeran said.
“I have called this the new face of hunger because we are seeing many millions of people who were not in the urgent category even six months ago being pushed into the urgent category — and we are seeing many people who were already vulnerable being put at great risk for malnutrition,” she said.
“We are seeing a more urban face of hunger,” Sheeran said. “We are seeing again people’s diets changing so maybe their caloric intake is the same but their nutritional status is deteriorating. We’re seeing people cut out health care and education.”