WASHINGTON – The U.S. government’s humanitarian relief agency will significantly scale back emergency food aid to some of the world’s poorest countries this year because of soaring global food prices, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is drafting plans to reduce the number of recipient nations, the amount of food provided to them, or both, officials at the agency said.
USAID officials said that a 41 percent surge in prices for wheat, corn, rice and other cereals over the past six months has generated a $120 million budget shortfall that will force the agency to reduce emergency operations. That deficit is projected to rise to $200 million by year’s end. Prices have skyrocketed as more grains go to biofuel production or are consumed by such fast-emerging markets as China and India.
Officials said they were reviewing all of the agency’s emergency programs – which target almost 40 countries and zones including Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Honduras and Sudan’s Darfur region – to decide how and where the cuts will be made.
“We’re in the process now of going country by country and analyzing the commodity price increase on each country,” said Jeff Borns, director of USAID’s Food for Peace, the organization’s food aid arm. “Then we’re going to have to prioritize.”
The reductions, relief agencies say, will seriously complicate already strained efforts to combat global hunger, particularly in Africa, Central Asia and Latin America.
The cuts will likely have a direct impact on major USAID partners, including aid groups and the United Nations World Food Program, the largest international provider, which counts on U.S food aid for 40 percent of its distribution.