The World Food Programme (WFP) has said that high food prices are creating the biggest challenge that WFP has faced in its 45-year history, a silent tsunami threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.
“This is the new face of hunger – the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, who is meeting British Government officials after addressing a UK parliamentary hearing in London.
“The response calls for large-scale, high-level action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions,” she said.
Urgent hunger needs
Analysis being carried out by WFP supports World Bank estimates that about 100 million people have been pushed deeper into poverty by the high food prices. WFP expects to release figures next week estimating how many new people have urgent hunger needs.
She said that like the 2004 tsunami, which hit the Indian Ocean leaving quarter of a million dead and about 10 million more destitute, the food price challenge requires a global response.
At that time, the donor community, including governments, the corporate sector and private individuals, stepped up, giving a record US$12 billion to help with recovery efforts. “We need that same kind of action and generosity,” Sheeran said.
“What we are seeing now is affecting more people on every continent, destroying even more livelihoods and the nutrition losses will hurt children for a lifetime,” she said.
She said WFP is urging a comprehensive approach where all parties, from governments to UN agencies to NGOs, all work together. Alongside other partners, WFP will follow a 3-track response:
- in the short term, WFP will seek full funding for targeted food safety nets and mother-child health programmes in extreme situations, scale up school feeding and use it as a platform for urgent, nutritional interventions;
- in the medium term, WFP will offer its huge logistics capacity to support life-saving distribution networks – every hour of the day, WFP has 30 ships on the high seas, 5,000 trucks on the ground and 70 aircraft in the sky, delivering food to the hungry; it will also expand cash and voucher programmes and support local purchases from small farmers, helping them to afford inputs and sustain livelihoods;
- and in the longer term, it will support policy reform and provide advice and technical support to governments engaging in agricultural development programmes; at the same time WFP will pursue local purchase contracts that can help farmers increase investment and yields.
- Longer-term solutions
“WFP can, if needed and if asked, ramp up to help cool down a nutritional crisis, so that longer-term solutions can come on board,” Sheeran said.
Just as WFP sends an emergency team into the field to deal with a natural disaster, so it has assembled its top specialists to deploy programmes to mitigate the effects of high food prices among the most vulnerable.
Sheeran stressed that partnerships will play a critical role in fighting this emergency. WFP has been engaging with donor governments, sister UN agencies, institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and other humanitarian actors, including non-governmental organizations to mobilize a coordinated response.
The urgency of the situation is underlined by WFP’s decision to suspend school feeding to 450,000 children beginning in May in Cambodia, unless new funding can be found in time. WFP representatives in 78 countries around the world are facing similar difficult choices.
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