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The U.N.'s Food Aid Shortages


The United Nations World Food Programme has to cut back on the food that it gives out to some of the most imperiled people in the world. In Ethiopia, for example, it's had to lower the daily calorie intake for hundreds of thousands of refugees that it feeds in the camps there. Now, this is partly due to funding shortfalls, but there is also a growing need for food aid as the globe's conflicts continue. Peter Smerdon joins us now from Nairobi. He's the spokesperson for the World Food Programme in East Africa. Mr. Smerdon, thanks for being with us.

PETER SMERDON: My pleasure.

SIMON: What kind of hard decisions do to the folks in your program have to make?

SMERDON: Basically, when we haven't got enough money, we have to decide who's not going to get food. And most of the people we serve are dependent on the United Nations World Food Programme for their food needs - in many cases, 100 percent because either they fled countries in conflict, and they have absolutely no money, no jobs and no assets left or because they're refugees, and they are confined to camps. They are not allowed to work. And they have no money, either.

So when we are forced to cut, we have to decide which is the best way to do it. We can do a shallow cut, like 10 percent 20 percent of the full ration. Or we can do a deep cut if we think the contributions will not be coming in anytime soon. The difficulty with doing a deep cut is that over the longer period, of course, people will become malnourished. Their immune systems will be suppressed. And if the cuts continue, or they're getting absolutely no food from WFP, inevitably, over time, they will fall sick. And, ultimately, many people will perish.

SIMON: So - I mean, forgive me. It's one thing to make appealing ads that people are in danger of starving to death. What you're saying now is, because there's a crunch for aid, people are in danger of dying slowly.

SMERDON: That's what, in the end, will happen to the most vulnerable. It's the women and the children who will go first. The difficulty about the situation confronting us in 2018, however, is that it comes on the heels of 2017, when the world really pulled itself together, and our donors and donors for other organizations stepped up and provided a lot of funding because we were facing what was said to be the greatest humanitarian needs...

SIMON: Yeah.

SMERDON: ...Globally for assistance since the Second World War. But it's whether they can keep - governments can keep giving at the huge levels they are already giving. And when the situation - and many of them are conflict situations - are only continuing. None of the situations are being solved. It's just getting worse.

SIMON: And, Mr. Smerdon, to those people who say - wait. I just gave - what do you say?

SMERDON: We say, thank you so much. But we would like you to give again because the needs are still there, and you will still be saving lives. You know, essentially, in conflict situations, we are simply a Band-Aid. We are keeping people alive. And in many cases, we are keeping people alive - the same people year in year out. So we are not changing the problem. We are not getting to the root cause of these people suffering. What we need is some kind of solution, particularly to protracted conflicts, to stop this from going on year in, year out.

SIMON: Peter Smerdon with the World Food Programme in East Africa, thanks so much for being with us.

SMERDON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.