(Adds quotes from briefing and Capitol Hill news event, background throughout)
* Only $3.7 bln pledged to meet $6.7 bln needs of WFP
* UN’s WFP has so far got $1.8 bln, and has cut rations
* Cuts to emergency food aid have "destabilizing" effect
* Financial crisis has compounded food crisis for poor
* Food aid needed in tandem with new G8 farm aid plan
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, July 29 (Reuters) - The world is falling far short in feeding its most critically hungry, pledging only $3.7 billion of the $6.7 billion needed to fund the World Food Programme for 2009, the head of the United Nations relief agency said on Wednesday.
The agency has so far received only $1.8 billion and has had to cut back rations and programs to the 108 million people it serves, said Josette Sheeran, its executive director.
The cutbacks will have a "destabilizing" impact in parts of the world reeling from dramatically higher food prices and less income due to the global financial crisis, Sheeran said.
"There’s nothing more basic than food. If people don’t have it, one of three things happen: they revolt, they migrate or they die," Sheeran said.
More than 1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry, up from 860 million two years ago. The WFP helps feed those deemed most desperate — about 10 percent of the total.
When food prices soared to record levels last year, prompting riots and hoarding in some countries, the WFP raised a record $5 billion in donations — about $2 billion more than in 2007 — to help feed 102 million people in 78 countries.
While grain prices have since eased on world markets, food prices in most developing countries have continued to climb at a time when fewer people can afford them because of shockwaves from the economic downturn.
"The food crisis is not over in the developing world. In fact, the situation is more alarming in many countries than it was even a year ago," Sheeran said.
Meanwhile, donor countries have spent trillions trying to stabilize the economy, and have had to tighten budgets.
This year the WFP has already had to cut rations in Kenya, where it helps about a third of the 10 million people identified as chronically hungry, and is now feeding only 70,000 children in a Bangladesh program, down from 300,000.
Sheeran said the United States has "stepped up" to boost its emergency food aid funding this year, but declined to name countries that have not.
She appealed to rich countries at the recent G8 meeting in Italy [ID:nLC507551] to help make up what she called an "unprecedented" shortfall, and will ask the G20 group of nations for help when they gather in Pittsburgh in September.
In Italy, leaders agreed to spend $20 billion over three years helping small farmers feed themselves and their neighbors. [ID:nN17468277]
The food security initiative could help end chronic hunger in the long term, but donors also must keep up support for emergency food aid in the meantime, Sheeran said.
"The challenge will be going ahead as a plan of action is put forward," she said. "Everyone says, ‘This is additional money, this is not taking from existing programs.’ But we will remain vigilant to make the case," she said.
The Obama administration will roll out more details in the next several months of its agricultural development aid plan, a senior administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development told a gathering of Capitol Hill staffers, lobbyists and diplomats on Wednesday.
The plan, tentatively called the "Seeking a World Without Hunger" initiative, will invest in boosting farmers’ productivity and improving storage, processing and transportation infrastructure in coordination with recipient countries and other donors, said Franklin Moore of USAID’s Africa bureau.
The plan will not mean the U.S. government steps back from emergency food aid, Moore said.
"I do not view this as ‘either-or,’" he said. "The world will be dependent on the U.S. role as an emergency food supplier for quite some time." (Editing by Christian Wiessner)