NEW YORK - At the end of a year marked by tragic humanitarian crises ranging from conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan to the carnage caused by a Tsunami in Asia, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme paid tribute today to donors' generosity but cautioned that even more support was vital for the coming year.
WFP Executive Director James Morris praised the generous international response to the Indian Ocean crisis. More than US$550 million has already been pledged to help the victims of the disaster. Major donors have so far included Australia, Canada, Finland, the European Union, France, Japan, Spain, Sweden the United Kingdom, and the United States.
"At the end of a year with a series of crises unfolding, with a cumulative effect that stretched donor resources to the limits, it is extremely gratifying to see such a swift and generous response to this new catastrophe, perhaps the worst natural disaster in history," Morris said.
During a meeting today in New York with senior officials from the United States, Japan, Australia and India, Morris appealed for urgent provision of cargo aircraft and helicopters to provide urgently-needed logistical support for food delivery and needs assessments.
"We have a critical need for airplanes and helicopters given the wide geographic expanse and difficult terrain -- we would be very grateful if countries were able to urgently help us meet our air transport needs."
More than 120,000 people are feared dead since huge waves washed out coastal villages and resorts in 10 countries around the Indian Ocean, in the wake of a colossal earthquake just off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra on the morning of 26 December. Worst hit were Indonesia, with at least 80,000 dead, Sri Lanka, south-eastern India and Thailand, but deaths and destruction were also reported as far away as Somalia and the Seychelles.
Morris said WFP was taking urgent steps to provide relief to survivors. In Sri Lanka, where WFP has 5,000 tons of food stocks rice, wheat flour, lentils and sugar, convoys of trucks have been heading for the worst hit parts of the country. By 6 January, WFP expects to support 750,000 people with enough food for two weeks. The agency is also airlifting food to
Indonesia's Aceh province and sending food overland to Somalia.
"The repercussions of this tragedy are so severe that communities are going to require massive international aid for many months to come," Morris said. "At the same time, there is a danger that this disaster will overshadow and divert attention from the needs of millions of other people affected by various crises, both natural and man-made, around the world. We will need to reach out to them too."
This year, WFP provided food aid to some 90 million people in more than 80 countries around the world. Many beneficiaries, however, faced ration cuts, including hundreds of thousands of refugees, due to a severe shortage of funding.
"As we look ahead to the New Year, we are already carrying a huge burden of need from the emergencies of the past year. It is crucial that we shoulder our responsibilities and be braced for the inevitability of new crises that we will have to deal with in 2005," Morris said.
In 2004, WFP received US$2 billion in donations. The United States remained its largest contributor, providing WFP with just under US$1 billion of aid - more than four times as much as any other donor. In WFP's biggest emergency operation this year, to provide food aid to some 1.6 million people displaced by brutal conflict in Darfur, the United States provided some 65 percent of the US$250 million raised so far.
"We are encouraged by the number of emerging new donors, including former beneficiary countries such as India and China, the new members of the European Union, as well as the private sector. France and Spain have also come on strong this year. But the backbone of our support continues to be the United States and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future," Morris said.
Noting that nearly five years had passed since the international community made its Millennium pledge to halve the proportion of poor and hungry people around the world by 2015, Morris called on the donor community to redouble their efforts on behalf of the world's 800 million chronically hungry people - including 300 million children.
Reports indicate that about a third of those who perished in the Tsunami disaster this week were children, and Morris joined UNICEF and others in emphasizing that children were always among the most vulnerable in any emergency.
"While high-profile disasters, like the one we are witnessing today, can move people to astonishing acts of generosity, there are millions more children suffering quietly every day, who need enduring support. The hard part is not what we face today, but what we will face tomorrow. We need to reach out to the hungry every single day," he said.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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