The Council of Ministers announced Friday that the Cambodian government will donate 2,000 tons of rice to the cash-strapped World Food Program to help the UN agency resume feeding programs for nearly 750,000 Cambodians.
“We had a good production of rice…last year and, if the economy works like this, we can manage to help,” Nhim Vanda, first deputy chairman of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said after the Council of Ministers’ meeting Friday. The rice has been purchased via the Commerce Ministry from local farmers, he said.
WFP Country Director Thomas Keusters said the donation is a “very welcome development,” adding that rice from the government will hopefully be available by March and distributed in April.
A funding shortage forced the WFP to halt feeding programs earlier this month for 650,000 schoolchildren, 70,000 people affected by HIV-AIDS and 18,000 tuberculosis patients around the country.
Keusters said that resuming food aid to HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis patients will be a top priority.
The WFP generally doles out about 25,000 tons of rice annually under the feeding programs, he said.
Spain pledged about $660,000 to the WFP earlier this month, while the US has promised 7,650 tons of beans and oil over the next three years. But the WFP has said additional funds are still urgently needed. Keusters said Sunday that the WFP is still engaged in “positive conversations” with at least three donors who may fund the program in 2007. He declined to name the potential donors.
The Cambodian government was deemed to owe the WFP $900,000 in 2005, after widespread fraud in the WFP’s food-for-work program between 2003 and 2004 led to rice being stolen from the agency in 12 provinces. The government repaid the last $300,000 installment, due by March of this year, ahead of schedule in October in order to help relieve WFP funding pressures, Keusters said.
The WFP no longer suffers problems with fraud, he said.
“As far as the WFP is concerned, this problem is finished,” he said.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Tomei, Pin Sisovann, Lor Chandara and John Maloy.)