The UN World Food Program said it was facing a “moment of distress” in feeding the world’s hungry, with billions of dollars needed amid a severe funding shortfall due to the global financial crisis.
“It is critical that people understand the extent of the problem,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“We need to raise about five, six billion dollars right now with the crisis,” said Sheeran, whose Rome-based WFP is voluntarily funded.
The number of hungry people will pass 1 billion this year for the first time WFP said this month, adding it only had $2.6 billion (R19 billion) in confirmed funding for its $6.7 billion 2009 budget, Reuters reports.
“We are in the midst of a hunger crisis. The numbers are increasing day to day,” Sheeran said.
“We are really in a moment of distress for the world’s hungry.”
Global recession and stubbornly high commodity prices across much of the developing world leave food beyond the reach of the worlds poorest, and climate change and weather-related disasters may spread misery, the agency says.
The Group of Eight wealthy nations said at a July summit in L’Aquila, Italy, it will spend $20 billion (R147 billion) over three years to spur agricultural investment in poorer states to fight hunger.
Sheeran said that “historic commitment must be followed by concrete actions necessary to ensure the world produces enough food and all people have enough to eat.”
Dramatic food price inflation
Touching on specific crises, she said WFP was not seeing the kind of response it needed for drought-hit Kenya.
“Part of what we are dealing with is an impression that the food crisis is over,” Sheeran said, adding that food prices were higher in much of the developing world than a year ago even though they had stabilized elsewhere.
In one Kenya village, it costs four goats for 200 pounds (90 kg) of grain, up from one goat a year ago, she said.
“We are seeing this kind of dramatic price inflation happening in many countries still,” Sheeran said.
“There is some impression that this crisis is not affecting the bottom billion as hard as before. But now we are seeing also the income being hit due to a pullback in remittances and a lack of investment and a lack of trade financing.
“So we have really a double whammy hitting the most vulnerable people in the world,” she said, adding that WFP estimates it is in for a tough 18 months or so.
“We will not be able to keep up with the hunger numbers we are seeing due to climate changes and the impact of weather and the economy. We have to invest in solutions yet we have to stand with the people such as those in Kenya,” she said.
Pic: Poverty in South Sudan