The heads of three of the largest UN agencies – UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP – today called upon negotiators at the World Trade Organization to protect food aid donations through the United Nations to cope with emergencies and feed vulnerable groups.
Global food aid is already under threat and slipped dramatically last year, dropping to 7.5 million metric tons from 10.2 million metric tons in 2003.
"We strongly believe reform of international agricultural trade is vital and can help overcome poverty in the developing world. This may well include disciplines on some types of food aid.
"But reforms should be carefully designed to protect millions of the world's children, refugees and malnourished people who count on donations of food aid for their survival, nutrition and health," said James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF.
"We ask that WTO negotiations recognize the crucial role that United Nations food aid plays in humanitarian operations and reaching out to the poorly nourished.
"Undernutrition remains the greatest threat to health worldwide (WHO, 2002) and there are chronic shortfalls in food rations for refugees, especially in Africa," the three agency heads said.
Any decision that might reduce the food available to them through the United Nations would be very hard to understand.
James Morris, WFP Executive Director
Food aid donations have come under scrutiny at the Doha Round of trade negotiations. One proposal seeks to ban donations of food in kind or restrict them to major emergencies, allowing donor governments only to give cash for the purchase of food aid, even through the United Nations.
But globally, more than 90 percent of deaths from hunger and malnutrition occur outside classic emergencies like Darfur or the Pakistan earthquake.
Last year, three out of four tons of food donated worldwide were purchased in donor countries and essentially made in kind: gifts of wheat, maize, rice, beans, vegetable oil and other foods specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of malnourished populations.
Based on past donor behavior, it is unlikely that equivalent levels of cash could be made available by donor governments, especially new developing country donors with limited cash resources.
"The needs of hungry people already exceed donations available," said WFP chief, James Morris. "Any decision that might reduce the food available to them through the United Nations would be very hard to understand."
Of particular concern is the fact that some 45 percent of food aid delivered in 2004 went to citizens of countries who are not even members of WTO, and therefore have no one representing them in ongoing trade negotiations.
"The needs of hungry women and children should take priority if the Doha Round is to be the pro-poor trade round we all hope for," said Guterres, Morris and Veneman.
"We appeal to negotiators at the World Trade Organization to put humanitarian considerations first when they address food aid."