The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has urged countries to step up and allocate to urgent hunger needs a fraction of what is proposed for financial rescue packages to address the global economic downturn. “We need to send a bold signal of hope to the world with a human rescue package,” said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, speaking from New Delhi during her first visit to India, the country with the single largest population of undernourished people in the world. “As we take care of Wall Street and Main Street, we can’t forget the places that have no streets,” she said, referring to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s challenge to political leaders.
WFP which aims to feed nearly 100 million of the world’s hungriest people in 2009 – announced Tuesday that it will start the New Year needing US$5.2 billion for urgent hunger needs. Without a rapid injection of funds, millions of people in Haiti, the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya and other hunger hot spots will run out of food assistance by the end of March. WFP is voluntarily funded, and relies on annual contributions for all of its programs. Sheeran said that with a mere 1% of what has been tabled for financial rescue packages and stimulus packages in the United States and Europe, developed countries could fully fund the work of the World Food Programme, and make a mark toward meeting other urgent hunger needs, for example feeding all 59 million hungry school children worldwide ($3 billion per year) and the establishment of a reserve fund for fast acquisition of food stocks for emergencies. Funds are also needed to boost the agricultural production of small-holder farmers who have seen the price of seeds and fertilizers more than double since 2006.
“World leaders need to be confronted with the values implicit in the policy choices they are making,” Sheeran said. “The world is poised to produce trillions for financial rescue packages. What will they produce for the human rescue?” WFP’s urgent call comes off the back of historically high food prices, followed by continued market volatility. The global financial crisis, which is enveloping the developed world, is spilling into the developing world as incomes are affected, and trade, capital flows and remittances slow. This month, the Kyrgyz government asked WFP to help feed 600,000 people pushed into desperate hunger following a sharp decline in the remittances which account for 20 percent of the country’s GDP.