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close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
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View the documentFeeding the worId

Feeding the worId

by Ellin BESSNER

The World Food Programme of the United Nations has a formidable task. Wars and natural disasters have brought many populations close to starvation in these turbulent times and the WFP are usually to he found in the vanguard of those seeking to pick up the pieces. In this article, supplied by the agency itself, we hear about its recent activities across the world, and its work-with the European Community as well as others-to supply the nutritional requirements of those most in need in the world's famine-stricken areas.

For nearly 25 years, the EC's Food Aid Service has been working closely with the World Food Programme (WFP) to transport and deliver the Commission's donations of food aid to millions of hungry people around the world. By the end of c 1992, the EC was WFP's second largest 3 multilateral donor after the United States, committing $526 million in food and cash for the two-year period 19911992.

WFP-the food aid arm of the United Nations-has a dual role: it is a principal channel for mobilising and moving relief food aid to victims of natural and manmade disasters, while at the same time it is the UN's largest source of grant assistance for development in third world countries.

The Programme now provides one-third of all food aid moved globally. In 1992, this amounted to approximately 4.1 million tonnes of food, the bulk of which was donated by developed nations, including the EC.

As a result, WFP has a large and efficient transport and logistics operation, moving relief food by land, sea and air. The past year saw WFP commit and move a record amount of donated food aid to meet emergencies in 46 countries. Whether it was Somalia or Yugoslavia, Iraq or Pakistan, in 1992 the Programme raised and committed 2.8 million tonnes of life-sustaining food for emergency relief-including 552 596 t provided by the European Community - to feed 27.5m needy refugees and people displaced by war, drought, tribal and religious conflicts, and natural disasters.

The bulk of WFP's emergency work went to help victims of man-made crises. In many countries in Africa such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique, drought combined with war to produce humanitarian tragedies.


Delivering life-saving food to Somalia was one of WFP's most difficult and frustrating relief operations in the organisation's 30-year history. In May 1992, with 2.5 million people at risk of starvation in central and southern Somalia, WFP was the first international relief agency to open the port of Mogadishu to cargo ships carrying large quantities of vital food aid. Despite the volatile security situation, WFP staff members remained in Mogadishu. In late August, the UN designated WFP as overall logistics coordinator for international relief efforts in Somalia.

At the same time, WFP launched an air bridge to shuttle food from Kenya to locations inside Somalia. Although moving food by air is usually a means of last resort, it provided a vital link in this case and was the only source of food for villages in the Somali interior. The airlift/ airdrop operation used both privately chartered planes as well as military aircraft supplied by Germany, the USA and Canada.

The EC donated 32 500 t of wheat and several hundred tonnes of cooking oil and enriched, dried, skimmed milk to the WFP relief operation in Somalia. The Community also contributed $3 million for transport and handling of the cargo to secondary delivery points-where local and international NGOs took over to supervise the free distribution.

Delivering relief food to Somalia was an enormous test of WFP's expertise in logistics. The challenges faced were formidable. For instance, armed looters in Mogadishu and Berbera made off with more than 15 000 t of relief rations while local and international relief staff were routinely threatened at gunpoint. Cargo ships and aircraft were also fired upon.

The turning point came in December, with 'Operation Restore Hope', the military intervention under the UN umbrella to secure transport routes for WFP's relief convoys. The Programme sent a fleet of trucks from Ethiopia to Somalia to boost delivery capacity- trucks normally assigned to WFP's longstanding operation in Ethiopia. By the end of 1992, WFP had delivered more than 103 000 t of food to Somalia and a further 113 000 t were scheduled for delivery in the first three months of 1993.


Towards the end of 1992, ongoing relief operations in the war-ravaged territory of ex-Yugoslavia became so complex that bilateral donors asked WFP to intervene to help them move the largest possible quantities of food into the region more quickly. In November, WFP launched its own additional relief operation to provide emergency food aid for 3 million people who are being assisted by the UN High Commission for Refugees. The programme committed $ 145m worth of humanitarian assistance, and opened offices in Zagreb, Split and Belgrade.

WFP's food shipments are destined for six of the former Yugoslav republics, including Bosnia-Herzegovina. Part of the relief food is meant to help supply therapeutic feeding centres for malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers, the elderly and the sick.

The EC-which was already operating in Bosnia-was one of the first donors to respond to WFP's appeal and is also the largest donor. Through its European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the EC has already pledged ECU 33.5m for the purchase of wheatflour, pulses, oil and sugar, as well as salt, biscuits, dried milk and canned meat, fish and cheese. This timely donation enabled WFP to accelerate distribution of food to Yugoslavia in mid-December. To date, the EC has committed, through WFP, a total of 66 800 t of relief food for the former Yugoslavia, valued at $41m.

Southern Africa

In 1992, Southern Africa faced the worst drought in living memory. WFP was asked by the UN to mobilise relief food and to help donors channel it to the region. The reason was to ensure a continuous flow of food and to avoid backlogs or gaps in the food pipeline.

WFP established a regional Logistics Advisory Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, to monitor the flow of all international food aid entering the 10 affected countries in the region. It set up a similar monitoring office in Johannesburg and, in addition, committed itself to raising some 712000t of food for free distribution to famine victims.

WFP logistics crews were deployed across the region-directing, loading and unloading at the ports of Beira, Dar es Salaam, Durban and so on. The Programme worked closely with government emergency agencies and local and international NGOs to move the food from the ports into the interior. In Mozambique, WFP lodged official protests against government efforts to place special taxes on the entry of relief food.

The EC was the second largest donor to respond to WFP's 'Drought in Southern Africa' appeal. In 1992, the EC contribution of food and cash amounted to over 280 000 t and $4.7m. For Mozambique alone, the EC gave, through WFP, nearly 39 000 t of maize to be distributed among the 1.3 million drought victims and 1.85 million people displaced by 17 years of civil war. In Malawi, the EC committed 46 000 t of maize and several thousand tonnes of nuts, beans, sugar and salt-to help the 4.7 million drought victims and the nearly 1 million refugees from Mozambique temporarily living in the country.


In northern Iraq, WFP has been providing aid 750 000 Kurds since the end of the Gulf War in April 1991. At the same time, the Programme is providing basic food rations to 450 000 poor and displaced people in central and southern Iraq.

The operation in northern Iraq has been fraught with danger, as more than a dozen trucks carrying WFP food have been either blown up or endangered by bombs as they made the hazardous trip through the mountains across the border from southern Turkey.

WFP also has large emergency operations under way in other parts of the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Sudan. Indeed, Operation 'Lifeline Sudan' has been under way since the end of the 1980s.

WFP also participated in the UN's major refugee repatriation operations, working closely with the UNHCR in Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Namibia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

In nearly all the countries where WFP ran emergency operations last year, the EC had an input in the form of relief food donations. WFP's operations fall into two categories: short-term relief needs and long-term feeding operations. In 1992, the EC donated food and cash towards WFP's long-term refugee projects in 15 countries: Mozambique, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Pakistan, Senegal, Swaziland, Sudan, Algeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zaire and Rwanda. The food aid supplied benefited 8.1 million long-term refugees and displaced people.

Bilateral donations

Although most of WFP's emergency work is for moving multilateral donations, a growing number of individual donor countries are calling on the WFP's bilateral services branch to complement their emergency efforts. Many donors, including the EC, recognise WFP's expertise in monitoring food distribution, in shipping and in transport. Last year, for instance, the EC requested WFP to monitor the considerable donation of 109 000 t of wheat destined for victims of a cyclone in Bangladesh.

Bilateral donors use WFP for shipping and transport because the agency does such an enormous volume of business each year. International freight companies have designed a special weighbill for WFP cargo and the Programme enjoys competitive transport and shipping rates.

The EC is a flexible bilateral donor because it encourages WFP to purchase relief commodities locally or in the region, as well as ensuring that the donated rations meet locally accepted food-eating habits. It also helps to keep down external transport costs.

In 1992, the WFP handled approximately 180 000 t of food for the EC through bilateral donations and charged $21m for its services.