Funding shortfall hits food aid distribution

Millions of Ethiopians are at risk of starvation because of a funding shortfall for food aid, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday.

WFP said it was facing a US $90 million shortfall for its emergency operations in 2003 in drought-stricken Ethiopia. "As we enter Ethiopia’s lean season before the harvest, the number threatened by starvation has shot up from 11 million to 12.5 million, and our best estimates are that it is still climbing," said James Morris, the executive director of WFP. He also criticised the international community for forcing WFP to cut food rations and also to decide on criteria for distribution.

"We have not had enough support to give out a complete cereal ration in Ethiopia, and we and our partners have been forced to reduce it from 15 kilos a month to 12.5 kilos. Currently we have commitments of about half of what we need for the new emergency operation. The threat of a pipeline break in September remains," he said.

Ethiopia is facing a food crisis unparalleled in its history. One in five of the population faces starvation and the aid bill is expected to top $800 million. WFP needs a staggering 230,000 mt more of food aid towards the 2003 requirement of 619,000 mt. Total food aid needed in the country is 1.5 million mt.

"I assure you cutting rations is an action we and our partners only take in desperation. Once again, because governments have failed to provide the aid needed, WFP is forced into an exercise in triage: Who will be fed? Who will go hungry?" said Morris.

Currently the Ethiopian government has topped up ration size to 15 kg - the internationally accepted norm, but only for the most vulnerable families.

One of the areas worst affected by the drought is Southern Nations', Nationalities' and Peoples' Regional State, where one-fifth of the country's population lives. Poor targeting of food aid by the government has been blamed for the chronic food shortages in the region.