Food waste, diets in focus on U.N. World Food Day

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Conflicts around the world mean there must be no “donor fatigue,” the head of the World Food Programme told AFP in an interview, as the United Nations marks World Food Day on Wednesday.

Ertharin Cousin warned aid funds were running out for forgotten but ongoing humanitarian crises like North Korea or Yemen, as money shifts to conflicts such as Syria, where the media attention is stronger.

“There is no room for donor fatigue,” Cousin said at the U.N. food aid agency's headquarters in Rome.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring we don't forget conflicts that are beyond the attention of the media,” said the Chicago native and ex-official in US president Bill Clinton's administration.

“Food crises don't just affect the countries where people go hungry. It's a global challenge.”

WFP supplies aid to about 97 million people in 80 countries, including 20 states that are mired in constant crises like Afghanistan, Haiti or Sudan.

Recent data shows the number of hungry in the world has fallen but still stands at 842 million people.

With an annual budget of around $5.0 billion (3.7 billion euros), the organization last year spent $1.2 billion buying emergency food supplies.

“Our needs always exceed the funding that we receive. Significantly,” she said, adding: “We have almost a billion dollars shortage between what we have and what we believe is needed.

“We anticipate that this shortage will be even greater next year,” said Cousin, who was appointed last year and was previously the United States ambassador to the U.N. agencies in Rome.

In the time she has been in office, Cousin said that aid to Syria had been scaled up from supplying 150,000 people to more than six million internally displaced people and refugees now.

WFP operations in and around Syria are costing around $31 million a week, but Cousin said this could not come at the expense of other crises.

“We are very concerned about places like Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo where we continue to act,” Cousin said.

In North Korea, “without significant contribution in the next months we will be forced to suspend our operation at the end of January,” she added.

The WFP has asked donors for $47 million to continue supplying aid to North Korea but has only received pledges amounting to 43 percent.

In Yemen, she said, five million people are going hungry and half of the children in the country are chronically malnourished, but still the donor money could finish by the start of next year.

“The concern is that Syria is receiving so much media attention and a large operation, that forgetting Yemen is easy,” she said.

“Because these crises are not making the front of the paper it becomes our responsibility to give them the visibility that is necessary,” she said.

Cousin said the shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this month in which 364 African asylum seekers drowned, should underscore the need for more aid to countries of origin.

“We are just addressing Lampedusa without addressing the challenges in those places and what is driving people out of their homes,” she said.