World Food Program Hopeful Programs To Restart Soon

The World Food Program’s country director said Tuesday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that donations will be pledged by Friday to restart the WFP’s feeding programs in Cambodia, which were halted last week due to a lack of funds.

But even if the money is pledged, the programs, which provide food for some 750,000 people, are still unlikely to be relaunched before May due to the time needed to reorganize them, Thomas Keusters said in an interview.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to resume [the feeding programs] no later than May,” Keusters said, adding that resuming feeding programs for 70,000 AIDS patients will be a top priority. The programs, which were halted Thursday, cater to 650,000 schoolchildren and nearly 100,000 AIDS and tuberculosis patients.

Several countries have given positive indications that they will provide funding by the end of the week, Keusters said, though he declined to name those countries.

The WFP warned last month that its feeding programs in Cambodia would come to a halt in February unless $10 million in aid materialized to cover the programs for the next six months. That money failed to materialize.

Australia and Japan have previously been among the biggest donors to the programs, together contributing 68 percent of the programs’ funding in 2005, according to the WFP.

Australia provided $6.2 million in 2006 for the programs, an Australian Embassy spokesperson wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

Funding from Australia that was originally earmarked for the UN agency’s programs in 2007 was advanced in November to help alleviate funding pressures, the spokesperson said.

AusAID has been “in close dialogue” with the WFP about funding, the spokesperson added.

“Australia…is aware of the current resource shortfalls,” and continues to support the WFP, the spokesperson wrote.

The Japanese and Canadian Embassies both said on Monday that they are considering contributing to the programs, though they did not say how much they might provide.

Erik Illes, first secretary at the Swedish Embassy, said his embassy has not received a formal request from the WFP for funding, but would consider finding funds if it was asked directly.

Keusters said the WFP has appealed to at least 25 foreign embassies in Phnom Penh and Bangkok, but could not immediately confirm whether Sweden had been included.

A German Embassy official said Monday that Germany is a regular funder of the WFP internationally but that he was not sure if funds would be earmarked for Cambodia this year.

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote in an e-mail that “due to high demands of emergency needs around the world, the US has not pledged development funds to WFP since 2004.”

Given limited resources, emergency food aid from the US goes to the most urgent cases, he said.

Leng Soley, an finance official in Kompong Chhnang provincial education department, said he is worried that school children in his province will be significantly impacted.

Some of the 34,109 students who received meals at school from the program in Kompong Chhnang might stop coming to school, he warned, though he added that this has not yet happened.

“The suspension of the World Food Program will strongly affect those students from impoverished families,” he said.

Dr Mean Chhivun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS-Dermatology and STD Control, said that a shortage of nutritious food could have an immediate impact on AIDS patients, particularly those undergoing anti-retroviral treatment.

“These patients need supplemented nutrition. It is a very urgent need,” he added.

Tuberculosis patients undergoing standard 6-month treatment have a similar need for a supplemented diet, Mean Chhivun said.

Dr Keo Chandara, who works at the Kompong Cham provincial health department, said that he received a letter from the WFP on Monday stating that food supplies had run out. The supplies are distributed at local hospitals, he said.

“We are very concerned over the suspension of feeding TB victims because it will discourage TB patients from coming to the hospital for treatment,” he said.


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