UN scaling up food aid for West Africans struggling amid rising prices

29 July 2008

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has announced it is expanding operations in West Africa to feed an additional 1.4 million people who are struggling due to high food prices in Guinea, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

WFP is taking vital steps to ensure the poorest people in West Africa are not pushed over the edge by the impact of high food prices,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, adding that WFP’s efforts are designed to complement government responses already in place.

WFP added the 1.4 million new beneficiaries to the 3.6 million people it was already planning to assist this year in the six countries, which have been severely impacted by a combination of increased high food and fuel prices, and poor harvests owing to floods and droughts.

WFP notes that over the past 12 months, food costs for its operations in the region have increased by almost 60 per cent and overall operational costs are now 30 per cent higher. Increased fuel prices have also pushed up transportation costs as many regions in need of assistance are landlocked.

The agency is scaling up food distributions to the hardest-hit areas across the region. In addition, malnourished children, pregnant and nursing women, primary school children and people affected by HIV/AIDS will also benefit from WFP food assistance.

This month WFP started distributions to an additional 600,000 people in Guinea’s capital, Conakry. It also started food distributions last week in the country’s rural areas to help cover the immediate needs of families – many of whom are surviving on cassava and mangoes – until the next harvest.

Meanwhile, in Mauritania – which depends on imports for 70 per cent of its food needs – the agency stocked cereal banks in the beginning of the rainy season, which allowed farmers to acquire cereals at a reasonable price and to plant their seeds, rather than resort to eating them.

WFP has also scaled up its distributions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Senegal to reach hundreds of thousands people, including young children and pregnant women.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired the fourth meeting of the high-level task force on global food security, held yesterday at UN Headquarters in New York.

The task force – which brings together the heads of key UN agencies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank – was set up by Mr. Ban in May to promote a unified response to the challenges posed by the surge in global food prices.

“He discussed ways the task force can support responses at the country level, commending panel members for the many initiatives that are already underway but adding that there is still much to do,” UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters.

Mr. Ban hailed the Comprehensive Framework for Action – a series of measures agreed on by the task force to meet immediate needs and also to build longer-term resilience to food crises in the future – as “a great achievement.”

At the same time, he stressed the need to broaden the partnership to include partners in the private sector, civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donors, as well as the need to translate the plan into concrete and quick action, in close partnership with national governments.

Among the immediate measures proposed in the plan are increasing nutritional and other feeding programmes, as well as supplying fertilizers, seeds, animal feed and veterinary services to help smallholder farmers in the current planting season. The plan also calls for a reduction in export bans on food commodities, and focuses on the need for much greater investment in agricultural production in the longer term.

Mr. Ban also noted the task force’s impact on the recent Group of Eight (G-8) Summit, which for the first time focused an outcome statement solely on food.

“The Secretary-General stressed the need to build upon that outcome and make progress in areas where continued G-8 political and financial commitment is indispensable, particularly in a marked increase in official development assistance for agriculture as well as progress in reducing agricultural subsidies,” Ms. Montas said.

The next meeting of the task force will take place in early September.

 

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