The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling back projects in a number of countries as it confronts a US$1 billion funding shortfall, with costs mounting for missions such as Syria, its director said yesterday.
Executive director Ertharin Cousin is in Australia as part of a tour to drum up support for the agency among donor nations and the private sector to help feed the world's hungry.
"We have about US$1 billion more in identified need in 2014 than we have projected revenues," she said.
Cousin said rations were being slashed across programmes in nations including Haiti, Niger, Mali and Kenya, where funding in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp was cut 10 per cent in December and another 10 per cent last month "because we lack enough money to feed everybody a full meal".
Costs are mounting for complex and dangerous operations in Syria, where the WFP is aiming to reach 4.25 million hungry people at a cost of US$40 million a week.
A December mission involving 12 food flights from Iraq to Qamishli in the embattled al-Hasakah region of Syria - cut off by road for a year - cost US$800,000 and fed only 6,000, Cousin said.
"Donors target their funds and when donors target their funds it means that [to fund] Syria, those same donors - it's the same pie, so they cut their funds in other places," she said.
Cousin said there were "hundreds of thousands of people [in Syria] that we can't reach on an ongoing basis" but stressed that where aid was getting through, "it means that we're making a difference".
Cousin said gaining access to besieged areas was the biggest challenge in feeding the millions in need within Syria. Another two million Syrians who had fled the conflict relied on food aid in neighbouring Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.
"The level of need is much higher than what we're actually achieving in Syria," Cousin said.
She said 45,000 families in the northeast province of al-Hassaka were among the Syrians who had survived without regular food deliveries for more than a year.
Cousin said she was aware of anecdotal reports of Syrians starving to death in areas aid agencies could not access. The WFP had no evidence to corroborate the reports, "but when you know that people have no resources, no access to ... food, and you're not reaching them, those anecdotes become easier to believe", she said.
Costly aerial operations were also being considered for the war-torn Central African Republic, with more than 50 WFP trucks held up at the border awaiting armed escort and some 800,000 people needing food.
Cousin is pushing for more individual and private-sector donors. The UN children agency Unicef receives more than 60 per cent of its funding through such channels, compared with 5 per cent for the WFP.
Cousin is also hoping to broaden the funding base to include booming economies like China and Saudi Arabia.
"They are beginning to come, we received a donation at the end of last year from China as well as from Saudi Arabia for our programmes in Syria, but we're hopeful that they will become much like Australia, a regular reliable donor," she said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press