April 3, 2017 / 10:59 PM / 2 years ago

U.N. food aid chief fears U.S. budget cuts could leave children hungry

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The outgoing head of the United Nation’s food aid agency voiced concern on Monday that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts for U.N. aid agencies would leave children hungry in crisis-hit areas.

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, speaks during a news conference discussing the latest challenges the agency is facing in Yemen, in Amman, Jordan, March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said she hoped Congress - which controls the government purse strings - would rebuff the cuts and maintain the United State’s long-standing role as the agency’s largest contributor.

The United States was the top contributor to the WFP in 2016 with $2 billion, a third of the agency’s budget.

“I do not believe that the people of the United States support allowing babies to go hungry,” Cousin, who ends her five years at the helm of the WFP on Tuesday, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

The WFP is the primary U.N. agency for hunger relief and says that each year, on average, it feeds more than 80 million people in more than 75 countries.

Cousin said U.S. financial backing was critical at a time when the international community was facing four possible famines simultaneously for the first time - in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan.

Famine was declared in some areas of South Sudan in February - the first official famine in six years.

A senior U.N. official has called the situation the “worst humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations” in 1945.

“When a famine occurs it means people have died ... and (allowing) that is not what the American people voted,” said Cousin.

“I believe that the humanity of the American people is greater than (what) this budget reflects,” she added.

Cousin, a stalwart of the U.S. Democratic Party and a former U.S. ambassador to U.N. food agencies in Rome, was appointed as executive director in 2012.

She will be replaced by fellow American David Beasley, a former South Carolina Governor, who was nominated for the role by the Trump administration and appointed by U.N. chief Antonio Guterres last week.

Trump has proposed a 28 percent reduction in the State Department’s budget, which would translate into steep cuts in U.S. funds for foreign aid and the United Nations to help pay for a 10 percent hike in military spending next year.

“To suggest that you can cut humanitarian and development assistance and invest in more money in the military to create security is wrong,” said Cousin.

“Parents who cannot feed their children are angry parents and they create unstable communities and ultimately unstable countries.”

Cousin said the proposed cuts - the exact extent of which has not been specified - had the potential to affect the entire organization but she was hopeful they could be averted by Congress.

Her successor had also committed to prioritize maintaining U.S. contributions to the agency upon taking office, she said.

“I applaud his recognition of the need for continue US support for the work of WFP,” she said.

Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org

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