Inefficient food aid

Like many aid agencies in the world, the WFP is woefully short of funding, so much so that it is powerless to head off starvation and suffering in some parts of the world.

The last time I wrote anything remotely critical about NGOs or UN organisations, I was brutally savaged by comments in this blog. I was shocked by such strength of response, and it made me realise how intolerant such organisations are of criticism, a fact that I find both disturbing and tragic.

So, in the interests of my own protection, I should first make the comment that, actually, I think the WFP is doing a rather good and necessary job. Whilst other NGOs may be faffing around with their own highly-dubious projects, and it is not entirely clear who they are serving, the WFP is keeping people alive. On the ground. And that is important.

The recent reports that the WFP needs more money – hey, don’t we all? – have certainly been put about to elicit the sympathiser of donors, who might then be willing to loosen their purse strings, which have been tied quite tightly in the wake of this relentless financial crisis.

But I would argue that perhaps the WFP should consider instigating more efficient food-distribution programmes, which demand less expenditure for the same effect.

One only hands to spend a little time digging and probing in Port Sudan to find out how wasteful the WFP food-distribution programme is. WFP workers will also tell you this, if you give them a few beers beforehand. But they’ll never say it on-the-record.

Last night, I met someone who used to live in Port Sudan in the 70s. When she first arrived there, she met someone who offered her two huge bags of flour at a very cheap price – enough to bake bread rolls for quite some time. When she got home and opened the bags, she discovered that the containers inside said “Refugee Camp”.

And this kind of thing still goes on. Darfur is a very long way from New York, from where most of the food aid comes. By the time it arrives at it destination, some estimate that at least 50% has been lost, through bribes or unscrupulous individuals that pilfer it.

That’s a lot of money down the drain. And money that, right now, it would seem the WFP can ill-afford to lose.

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