THREE MONTHS AFTER THE TSUNAMI, WFP DECLARES HUNGER CRISIS AVERTED
BANGKOK - Three months after the 26 December Indian Ocean tsunami, the United Nations World Food Programme declared that starvation and widespread malnutrition had been averted in the wake of one of history's worst natural disasters.
WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, is providing essential food aid to 1.75 million tsunami survivors who lost their homes, livelihoods and family members. Mounting one of its most complex emergency operations ever, the agency has moved more than 50,000 metric tons of food - fortified biscuits and noodle, rice, oil, sugar and pulses - using military and civilian helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, cargo ships, landing craft and the traditional trucks.
"Almost overnight, we launched a massive operation against overwhelming odds, particularly in Indonesia," said Kenro Oshidari, WFP's Deputy Regional Director for Asia. "In the wake of this incredible tragedy, food brought comfort to communities overwhelmed by grief and loss."
With the threat of a major food crisis over, WFP is shifting gear into the reconstruction phase of its tsunami humanitarian operation. Oshidari said that thanks to the generous funding of its appeal, the agency can focus on rebuilding communities.
In this post-emergency phase, WFP has started food-for-work projects in Myanmar to help people rebuild their communities. In both Sri Lanka and Indonesia, WFP has mapped out a strategy for providing nutritious food to the most vulnerable members of the population - orphans, widows, mothers who are the heads of their households, the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and schoolchildren.
"Our aim now is to help these poor people get a new start in life by drawing on the unprecedented support for tsunami relief from the public and private sector. We have an opportunity today to lift some communities from the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger that plagued their lives before the tsunami," said Oshidari.
In Indonesia, general food distribution is giving way to assistance for 350,000 primary school children, 55,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers and 130,000 children under five years of age. These are the groups of people who most need good food at this very crucial stage of their lives.
WFP will help restore the livelihoods of Indonesian communities affected by the tsunami through food-for-work, and is talking with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other agencies on other possible partnerships.
In Sri Lanka, WFP will start a school feeding programme in April for 120,000 children, who will get a nutritious snack in school. This is in addition to the 165,000 children who were already enrolled in school feeding before the tsunami. And in order to prevent malnutrition, WFP will begin distributing corn-soya blended food to 200,000 "vulnerable group" members and to 112,000 mothers and infants. By June, WFP will be assisting a further 277,000 people to rebuild roads and other local infrastructure in the affected areas.
Also in Sri Lanka, WFP will work in partnership with other groups like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help people clear debris from their land, rebuild their houses and resume their fishing activities by providing boats and nets. WFP and the International Labour Organization (ILO) carried out a joint livelihoods and food security assessment in January which indicated that before the disaster, some 37 percent of households in the area relied on fishing for a living. Now that figure is only one percent.
In Myanmar, WFP food-for-work projects are well underway. Some 7,000 people in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Division are constructing 20 ponds to hold drinking water, six kilometers of village roads and two wooden bridges destroyed by the tsunami. In return, they are getting four months' supply of rice, cooking oil and beans. In the southern Kawthaung district, near the Thai border, WFP is giving the same ration to 1,000 people who are rebuilding access roads and rehabilitating sea dykes damaged by the waves.
In the Maldives, WFP has completed a seven-week school feeding programme for 24,000 children who were affected by the tsunami. In addition, 42,000 vulnerable people are receiving rations of rice, sugar, pulses and oil.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
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