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Bail-out package for food security needed
Friday, 26 December, 2008, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
The World Food Programme has urged countries to step up and allocate to urgent hunger needs a fraction of what is proposed for financial rescue packages to address the global economic downturn.

In her first official visit to Delhi, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme, said that India could make a significant contribution to the global fight against malnourishment and hunger if it showed political will and made its food distribution system more effective.

"As we take care of Wall Street and Main Street, we can't forget the places that have no streets," she said.

WFP - which aims to feed nearly 100 million of the world's hungriest people in 2009 - has announced that it will start the New Year needing $5.2 billion for urgent hunger needs. Without a rapid injection of funds, millions of people in Haiti, Ethiopia, Kenya and other hunger hot spots will run out of food assistance by the end of March, when warehouse stocks run out. WFP is voluntarily funded and relies on annual contributions for all of its programmes.

Sheeran said that with a mere 1% of what has been tabled for financial rescue packages and stimulus packages in the United States and Europe, developed countries could fully fund the work of the World Food Programme and make a mark toward meeting other urgent hunger needs, for example feeding all 59 million hungry school children worldwide ($3 billion per year) and the establishment of a reserve fund for fast acquisition of food stocks for emergencies. Funds are also needed to boost the agricultural production of small-holder farmers who have seen the price of seeds and fertilizers more than double since 2006.

"World leaders need to be confronted with the values implicit in the policy choices they are making," Sheeran said. "The world is poised to produce trillions for financial rescue packages. What will they produce for the human rescue?"

Sheeran said that India had made major progress in food production and breaking the cycle of famines, but still needed to make its state-run public distribution system (PDS) more effective to deliver food to the poor and end malnourishment. "And we are partnering with the government to make that PDS system more effective," she said.

Sheeran further elaborated, ""I think one of the challenges is of scalability and ensuring that all efforts are as effective and efficient as possible because of the vast need. Indian authorities acknowledge there is corruption and inefficiency in the PDS. In the past year, villagers in rural areas have clashed with police and government officials, complaining they are not getting free food.

This is why the WFP is very focused on public distribution systems and their effectiveness; we are working with Iraq to Egypt to Ghana and here in India to look at the effectiveness."

Hunger can lead to civil unrest as witnessed in Haiti and the effects of hunger during a child's earliest years prevents it from reaching full intellectual and physical capacity. "We can't afford to lose the next generation," concluded Sheeran.
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