April 15, 2008 / 11:44 AM / 12 years ago

U.N. agency faces "heartbreaking" food aid choices

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations food agency will need to make “heartbreaking” choices about its emergency aid unless governments donate more money to help it buy increasingly expensive food, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Program (WFP), which aims to feed 73 million people in 80 countries this year, said sharp rises in the price of wheat, corn and other staples meant many people “already living on the razor’s edge” may lose access to critical food aid.

The WFP has received just $14 million after appealing to governments for an extra $500 million to cope with higher food prices, linked by economists to high energy prices, more demand from developing countries and the use of farmlands for biofuels.

The supplemental appeal was meant as a top-up to the WFP’s initial budget of $2.9 billion for 2008, of which donors have provided about $800 million to date, Berthiaume said.

“If by this summer we don’t receive more, we will have to make quite heartbreaking choices — either we reduce the beneficiaries or we reduce the rations,” she told a news briefing in Geneva.

Some governments have indicated they will provide funds but the money has not yet been transferred, she said.

“Hunger is taking a different image now,” she said, contrasting the current crisis to those where wars or natural disasters destroyed food stocks. “There will be food in the markets, and people will not have the means to buy it.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York on Monday that rapidly worsening food shortages around the world had reached “emergency proportions”.

Short-term emergency measures are needed to meet urgent needs and avert starvation in many regions, as well as a significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production, according to Ban.

Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Catherine Evans

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