- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The vital U.N. World Food Program needs an additional $500 million to accomplish its mission to feed 73 million people in 2008, including 3 million people each day in the Darfur region.

This shortfall is largely tied to rising fuel and food costs, which have adversely impacted the Rome-based organization’s buying power and ability to distribute food and humanitarian supplies to 78 countries around the globe.

With more than 25,000 people dying each day from malnutrition, there is a desperate need to continue this program, the largest of its kind. Originally, food program officials had estimated its budget needs for 2008 were $2.9 billion; that projection has now increased to $3.4 billion, a gap attributed to a 40 percent increase in food prices in some regions. Recently, the food program announced that some 2.5 million Afghans were in need of additional help this year due to the rising cost of food.

The food program falls under the authority of the United Nations and is funded by contributions from nearly 90 governments around the world; the bulk of these donations come from the United States (nearly $1.2 billion in 2007), from both private and public sources.

WFP officials have launched a public awareness initiative aimed at closing this funding gap. They toured the Chicago Board of Trade grain pits with actress Drew Barrymore, who appeared Monday on the set of the Oprah Winfrey program and announced she was donating $1 million to the program.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the food program, pleaded for assistance during a committee hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels. Mrs. Sheeran and her staff are trying their best to avoid cutting rations for the millions of impoverished people around the world who lack the basic nutrients.

As Congress continues to hash out its budget, including a potential supplement to the fiscal 2008 budget, we hope these politicians — rather than approving the next Bridge to Nowhere — are mindful of the lifesaving service this group provides and step up to meet this need.

However, looking beyond this lumbering budget process, private companies and individuals must also pitch in to address the dire situation. While our economy is certainly slowing, we are still a land of increasing obesity and commercialism. We have more than enough resources to meet this need.

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