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//REPEAT//DEVELOPMENT: Unprecedented Demand for Emergency Food Aid in 1999

By Thalif Deen

- The year 1999 was marked by an unprecedented demand for emergency food aid sparked by a growing number of military conflicts and natural disasters the world over.

The number of people assisted by the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP) increased by about 17 percent over 1998, to a total of 89 million, the highest number ever assisted in a single year.

In its annual report released Thursday, the WFP says that major new emergency situations in Kosovo and East Timor also demanded the rapid establishment of entire offices, including staff, equipment and food stocks.

At the same time, ongoing large-scale relief operations, particularly in Afghanistan, Angola, the Great Lakes region in sub-Saharan Africa, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Sudan, continued to make significant demands on WFP’s resources.

“Headlines about major international crises do not capture the pressing need for long-term support for the poor and hungrysuch as the people of Central America, still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, and the long-term displaced in Colombia,” says WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini.

Their houses are gone, their fields destroyed and their crops lost, she points out.

. “These are problems that people will have to live with for many years to come. Even when there is no war, no flood, no drought, there is often hunger, as is well-known to the many millions of people around the world who do not have enough food every day to lead healthy lives,” Bertini notes.

Recipients of relief assistance accounted for nearly 80 percent of all WFP beneficiaries in 1999, including a large number of people affected by natural disasters in late 1998 (in Bangladesh, China and Central America) who continued to receive emergency assistance in early 1999.

Of the 89 million receiving emergency food assistance, 41 million were victims of natural disasters, 18 million victims of wars and civil unrest, 11 million were beneficiaries in protracted relief and rescue operations, and 19 million were people in development programmes.

In a joint statement, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Director-General of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Jacques Diouf, say that at a time of unprecedented prosperity in much of the world, the number of people whose basic nutritional needs are not fulfilled, remains alarmingly high.

“Millions of people suffer from chronic hunger. And millions more face sudden food crises every day,” they say.

In 1999 alone, 35 countries faced serious food shortages that were caused by natural disasters, the outbreak or continuation of violent conflict, or the breakdown of economic systems.

The theme of this year’s World Food Day – to be observed Oct. 16 – would be “A Millennium Free from Hunger.” The theme invokes both a vision and a challenge, FAO said Thursday. The vision is to achieve the objective of ensuring food for all during the new millennium. The challenge is to make the vision a reality.

The FAO has called for immediate action to eliminate the underlying causes of chronic hunger, a global problem that now affects about 800 million people worldwide.

Meanwhile, WFP’s total operational expenditures last year stood at 1.4 billion dollars, while total funds received from donors amounted to about 1.6 billion dollars.

Of the UN’s key funds and programmes, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), WFP has one of the largest operational budgets and also receives the largest number of contributions from donors.

WFP’s fiscal health has been ensured by 45 donor governments, plus the 15-member European Community, various inter-governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private donors, including 45 million dollars received in bilateral assistance last year.

In 1999, the five major donors were the United States (719 million dollars), the European Community (168 million dollars), Japan (106 million dollars), Canada (94 million dollars) and the Netherlands (55 million dollars). The United States alone provided about 46 percent of all contributions to WFP.

“However, this unusually high level of contributions is largely due to a very small number of donors,” WFP points out in its annual report. “This heavy reliance on such a small number of donors is of concern to the organisation, and other donors are encouraged to increase their contributions to ensure a more balanced funding base.”

Many non-traditional donors – including Croatia, Morocco, Poland and Slovakia – have increased their level of donations to WFP. in 1999, 20 non-traditional donors, including Saudi Arabia and China, gave a total of 12 million dollars.

WFP says that significant efforts were made last year to raise additional funds from the private sector, which amounted to about 2.4 million dollars. The largest-ever donation from any single individual came from Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat of Argentina who gave a donation of 500,000 dollars for Kosovo.

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