| GEO World|
| UN to cut food aid due to budget shortfall|
| Updated at: 1900 PST, Friday, July 31, 2009|
WASHINGTON: The United Nations food aid agency said Wednesday it will be forced to cut programs even as hunger soars amid the global economic crisis because pledged donations have failed to materialize.
World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran said that the agency's 2009 budget of "assessed, approved needs" is 6.7 billion dollars.
The WFP now expects, after consultations with governments, donations of 3.7 billion.
"For the World Food Programme, we are facing a dangerous and unprecedented shortfall in emergency funding. This is mainly due to the fact that the needs which were greatly increased last year due to the food crisis have not come down, in fact have increased, just as we're seeing the numbers of hungry increase," Sheeran told reporters in Washington.
"So we are actively cutting three billion dollars of our program, which means a reduction in rations and programs throughout the world, including those to the world's most vulnerable people."
The head of the Rome-based UN agency did not provide specific details on the cutbacks and their timetable. She declined to name the countries that are not meeting their commitments.
Sheeran said the drop in donations this year was in part due to tight government budgets after the global financial crisis accelerated in late 2008, triggering the worst recession in decades.
She also suggested that the impact of the crisis was "not as dramatic at home" in the developed world, resulting in a reduced sense of urgency to provide relief to the world's hungry.
Those living on a dollar a day can only afford to buy about a third of the food they were able to buy a few years ago, she said.
Sheeran said that for the first time in history, 1.02 billion people are undernourished worldwide, up from 60 million just two years ago.
"One out of every six today are on the official list of the urgently hungry," she said. "One third of the world's children in the developing world are stunted."
Last year, the agency's needs doubled as food prices spiked, sparking riots in more than 30 countries, the overthrow of the Haitian government, and unrest in Italy over pasta prices, she recalled.
Sheeran highlighted the crucial role the WFP plays in reducing hunger in the developing world, where 80 percent of countries lack a food safety net.
Sheeran said the United States was "leading the way" in aid relief.
She praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her "leadership on this issue to find not only solutions for the long term but to meet the emergency needs.
"The Obama administration has been an advocate on both scores and we're thankful for that. And the US Congress and the administration have really stepped up to the plate this year to make sure that the emergency needs are met," she added.
The WFP chief was in Washington meeting with key officials of President Barack Obama's administration and US lawmakers, as well as World Bank officials, WFP spokeswoman Jennifer Parmelee said.