World Food Programme chief appeals for ‘more flexible’ aid

Ertharin Cousin [Georgi Gotev]

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), made an appeal today (23 February) for more funds to fight hunger in crisis areas, but also for more flexibility on how to use the funding.

Cousin was in Brussels to meet with Commission officials and MEPs. This is her second visit to EU institutions since she was appointed to her position by the US State Department in 2012.

Growing number of crises

The diplomat said that the objective of achieving zero hunger was attainable, but that it was the growing number of crises that created immediate hunger. Therefore WFP had to deal both with development and crisis response, Cousin explained.

The WFP is a voluntarily funded organisation (see background). Last year, it raised more money than ever before in its history: $5.6 billion, Cousin said. But with the increased crisis, the organisation needed $7.8 billion, she added.

However, 95% of the money is targeted by donors to particular crises, said Cousin, explaining that consequently, the action of WFP could be severely underfunded in some places.

Cousin said that WPF was “knocking on the door” of philanthropic organisations, and was interested in obtaining more private money, as such funding, in her words, provided for more flexibility.

Some governments, like the Belgian government, provide such flexibility, Cousin said.

The WFP enumerated the world’s various conflicts and her organisation’s action.

Syria operation ‘seriously underfunded’

Cousin enumerated five crises, starting from Syria, where the WFP is working to feed 4 million, and 1.9 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt.

This operation remains significantly underfunded, Cousin said. She pointed out that in September 2014, the WFP was forced to suspend the operation because of a lack of funding. The EU was one of those who stepped up and provided €25 million last December, along with private donors, which allowed for the operation to continue.

However, because the crisis has been going on for many years, the level of funding is diminishing. Consequently, the WFP has cut the vouchers by 70% for those outside Syria, and inside, rations were cut by 70%.

“The challenge is that without additional funding, it will be probably necessary to reduce the food aid even more,” Cousin said.

The WFP chief also touched upon the issue of access to the hunger-stricken populations in Syria. She explained that the organisation was continuing to provide assistance to areas controlled by the opposition and by the government, using cross-border access thanks to United Nations Security Council resolutions.

She said that the WFP was hoping for a cease-fire in Aleppo, in order to allow access to the besieged eastern part of the city, to which the organisation has had no access for several months.

Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, is at the forefront of clashes between pro-government forces and a range of insurgents, including Islamist brigades, al-Qaeda’s Syria wing the Nusra Front, and Western backed units.

Cousin explained that in areas under control of ISIS, the humanitarian agency had very limited access. “Whenever there is an opening, we go in,” she said.

Regarding South Sudan, where a civil war has raged for the last 14 months, Cousin said that malnutrition was getting worse. She explained that the WFP had created mobile teams on the ground and that food was air dropped to them so that they could distribute it “and move on very quickly, because it’s a war zone”.

South Sudan is the world’s newest state, having gained independence from Sudan in 2011. At least 10,000 people have been killed, and 1.5 million internally displaced by the war. The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are in a state of emergency or crisis, just short of famine.

Cousin also painted a grim picture of the situation in the Central African Republic,  where the conflict continues, and in her words, people are unable to farm. The WFP provides assistance to over 1 million people in CAR, she said.

Thousands have been killed, and around a million displaced from their homes in violence that has gripped the impoverished landlocked country since the mainly Muslim Seleka took power in March 2013.

Regarding the Ebola crisis, Cousin said that 1000 WFP staff members worked in the three countries hit by the epidemic, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, providing assistance to 2.7 million people.

She explained that WFP had a special role to play, providing the World Health Organisation (WHO) with logistic support, warehousing, constructing care centres, providing vehicles, protective clothing, and basic services such accommodation. The reason, she said, is that the WFP is a field operation, while the WHO is not. At present, WFP was working in Liberia to help re-open schools, Cousin said.

In Iraq, the challenge was that the area between Baghdad and Kurdistan was controlled by ISIS and access to it was very limited, the WFP chief said. She added that her organisation feared a surge of internally displaced persons, as “the global community plans for escalation against ISIS”.

The WFP chief also mentioned Yemen and Ukraine, in the context of the possible surge of refugees. 2014 saw the greatest number of refugees since World War II, according to Cousin, and required humanitarian response at unprecedented levels.

2015 begins with escalation in Yemen, with the potential of more displaced people, and in Ukraine, where WFP, is supporting 88,000 people, working to increase it to another 190,000. 

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The World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. WFP is part of the United Nations system and is voluntarily funded.

Born in 1961, WFP pursues a vision of the world in which every man, woman and child has access at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life. We work towards that vision with our sister UN agencies in Rome -- the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) -- as well as other government, UN and NGO partners.

On average, WFP reaches more than 80 million people with food assistance in 75 countries each year. About 11,500 people work for the organization, most of them in remote areas, directly serving the hungry poor. 

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