- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NEW YORK — Spiraling food prices are hitting private charities and relief agencies, with some of the world’s largest aid providers warning they will soon be forced to slash programs on their existing budgets.

Even as the numbers of needy and desperate grow, governments and relief organizers are trying to figure out how to avert an immediate crisis while planning for a long-range disaster.

“We see mounting hunger and increasing evidence of malnutrition, which has severely strained the capacities of humanitarian agencies to meet humanitarian needs, especially as promised funding has not yet materialized,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after convening a meeting of 27 senior U.N. officials.

The organization yesterday announced a high-level task force to study solutions to the food shortage.

The U.N. World Food Program, which last year fed 88 million people, has issued an emergency appeal for $775 million just to continue existing programs.

The United States has allocated $1.3 billion in food-related assistance since October, including $240 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development announced yesterday for use in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Kenya, Haiti, Bangladesh, Somalia, Mauritania, Uganda and Sudan.

The Bush administration also has requested $350 million in supplemental funding from Congress.

For many relief agencies, though, there is no way to make their resources fit the needs.

World Vision and Care International, two of the largest private aid agencies, are among those evaluating programs in the world’s poorest countries and deciding which ones to scale back or eliminate.

“This is so painful,” said Alina Labrada, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Care. Budget cuts have forced the agency to cut food rations for 660,000 internally displaced Somalis by 25 percent, while widows in Afghanistan may lose their skills-and-food program.

“The numbers [of needy] increase daily,” said Ms. Labrada. “We are giving more people a little bit less, but even with that we have a $25 million shortfall just for the Somalia program. Food stocks run out mid- to the end of May, and there will be a gap for June. None of our field staff around the world have ever seen a situation this dire.”

“Higher prices this year mean we’ll be able to distribute food to thousands less,” said Seth Le Leu, World Vision program director, of Juba, the capital of southern Sudan.

World Vision, which runs food assistance programs in 30 countries, has reduced rations in Burundi, Niger, Sudan and Cambodia. If the funding shortfall persists, the organization will be forced to cut 1.5 million from its programs.

Robert Zachritz, World Vision’s director of advocacy and government relations, said donors, including the United States — already the largest contributor to the World Food Program and many other relief efforts — need to do more.

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