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Continuous rains cause havoc:

WFP relief measures in top gear



Adnan Khan

WFP Country Director Adnan Khan in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the organisation was closely working with the Government to help feed the flood-displaced in five of the worst affected districts, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

The distribution of food is being coordinated by the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Disaster Management and the Government agents.

"The WFP is also concerned about the impact of floods on the upcoming Maha harvest and the corresponding negative consequences to food security.

It is planning on conducting a food security and nutrition survey in March to inform the organisation's food assistance in the longer term," Khan added.

Q: What is the response of the UN in general and WFP in particular to the Sri Lankan flood crisis that has affected an overwhelming 1.2 million people in 17 districts?

A: As part of the Government-led humanitarian response to the initial wave of flooding in early January, the World Food Program provided emergency food rations for nearly 500,000 flood affected people in the East.This assistance consisted of some 675 mts of assorted food commodities worth approximately Rs. 55 million.

Sustained rains causing additional floods towards the end of January necessitated further action on the part of WFP.

The organisation launched a six-month emergency operation in five of the hardest hit districts in the East and North-Central regions of the island. Food despatches to Trincomalee, Ampara, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, commenced on February 4. WFP plans to feed up to 500,000 during the initial 20 days under emergency relief.

This will be followed by an additional 20 days of 'soft' food for work under which the same relief ration will be distributed but beneficiaries will be organised to carry out works such as community clean-up and rehabilitation activities.

The remaining four months of the project will be aimed at implementing Food-for-Assets interventions to ensure the maintenance of irrigation schemes, rehabilitation of tanks, re-construction of roads and agricultural fields to help households transition into normal livelihood practices.

Q: This is the second wave of the floods. The UN estimates the impact of the recent floods will be much more than the earlier disaster. How many people have you reached so far? (UN news centre reported that you are targeting half a million flood victims.)

A: The second wave of flooding has caused widespread displacement and further damage to paddy fields. Under the newly launched six-month emergency operation we plans to feed up to 500,000 flood affected people in five districts: Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.

Q: How do you ensure a steady supply of aid and what is the mode of distribution of WFP assistance?

A: WFP is working closely with the Sri Lankan government to access people in the flood hit areas. The distribution of food is being coordinated by the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Disaster Management and the respective Government agents.

Q: How do you evaluate the response for the call by the UN for international aid to assist Sri Lanka's flood victims?

A: The WFP emergency appeal for food assistance to those affected by the floods totals Rs. 970 million. To date about 50 percent of the total has been resourced through generous donations from CERF, ECHO, Australia and the US. The commodity shortfall stands at approximately 6,500mt or Rs. 500 million.

We are launching this flood relief operation at a time when shortfalls for regular ongoing operations in the North are facing a funding gap of US$13 million until June.

This operation supports the returnee population, and the internally displaced who continue to reside in welfare centres/ camps with food rations. This funding shortfall and the resulting tight food pipeline has already led to a reduction in rations for some 220,000 returnees since October last year, and unless new funds are immediately received, WFP will have exhausted all in-country food stocks by April.

Recent rains have also resulted in flooding in the north with displacement and damage to crops. Funding is also required to meet the increasing needs in the North on account of these floods.

Q: What is the reason for the poor response for the aid call, is it because the world population is overwhelmed by the magnitude of natural disasters recorded in the recent past? (It was reported that the response to SL call had been very poor and the UN will revise its flash appeal at the end of the month.) The poor response to WFP's regular operations can be linked to the shifting priorities of donors, as well as high needs in other countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan.

A: While appreciating the support to date of the donor community, we are looking forward to upcoming commitments which will to ensure a continuous provision of food assistance to meet the critical food needs of the most vulnerable internally displaced people and returnees in the newly resettled areas of the North.

Q: Floods have severely affected the country's staple rice crops. The authorities estimate 300,000 acres of paddy land have been completely destroyed. In this light are you planning a long term assistance program for Sri Lanka? WFP is also concerned about the impact of floods on the upcoming Maha harvest and the corresponding negative consequences to food security.

A: Climate change is expected to add another 10-20 percent to the total of hungry people in the world by 2050. By 2050 we can expect to have 24 million more malnourished children as a result of erratic weather - 21 percent more than without climate change. We are planning to conduct a food security and nutrition survey in March which will inform WFP food assistance in the long term. In general, WFP uses food-for-assets as a way to support livelihood re-construction, and the school meals program as a safety net to returnee families, as two modalities as a long-term recovery strategy.

Q: Erratic weather conditions/climate change could be a major concern for poorer nations fighting for food security in the future. How do you evaluate the preparedness of the world to face such a situation? What is the remedy for nations such as Sri Lanka? Climate change is expected to add another 10-20 percent to the total of hungry people in the world by 2050. By 2050 we can expect an additional 24 million malnourished children as a result of erratic weather - 21 percent more than without climate change.

A:WFP engages in climate mitigation activities in Sri Lanka through food-for-work which includes projects such as tree planting, and the construction and distribution of fuel-efficient stoves. In addition, as part of WFP's future country strategy the organisation will focus on supporting the Government of Sri Lanka's emergency preparedness and response to climatic shocks. This will include strengthening of nutritional surveillance systems as well as contingency planning.

Q: Do you foresee a continuous rise in food and commodity prices worldwide (an era of 'food volatility' as described by WFP Chief Josette Sheeran) and how should the world, especially the developing world, approach this problem? WFP is monitoring the global market situation carefully and indications are that prices of staple commodities continue to climb.

A: Price hikes hit the hungry poor disproportionately harder and given that more than half of WFP's food is purchased with cash donations, higher prices can mean less food for the hungry.

Q: The WFP feeds 90 million people a year at a cost of US$ 1.25 billion.

With food prices going up and even donor countries facing harsh economic climates, how is the WFP coping with the challenge of feeding the world's hungry? What are the long term prospects?

A: WFP, is the largest humanitarian organisation in the world, it aims at feeding more than 82.7 million people in 72 countries in 2011. Rising food prices, and difficult economic climates in donor countries will impact WFP's ability to feed the hungry, however optimism prevails and there is hope that donors will continue to be engaged and remain committed to supporting life-saving food assistance interventions.

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