The UN’s World Food Programme suspends aid to millions amid funding problems

Even though the world has committed to ending hunger, contributions to the World Food Programme have been dropping.

The UN’s World Food Programme suspends aid to millions amid funding problems
People receive food, in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in Adassil, Morocco, September 11, 2023. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The backstory: The World Food Programme (WFP) is part of the UN, founded in 1961. Its mission is to provide food aid in emergency situations (like war and natural disasters) and to help build nutrition systems in deprived communities all over the world. According to the WFP, about 10% of the world’s population doesn’t have enough to eat. But, by 2030, the international community has committed to ending hunger, attaining food security and upgrading food and food-related assistance projects. For these efforts and for the work it’s done to stamp out the use of hunger as a wartime weapon, the WFP won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020. And, in 2022, it helped a record 160 million people access food.

More recently: Even though the world has committed to ending hunger, contributions to the WFP have been dropping. Donations have been cut by more than 60% just as hunger hits record-high levels. The war in Ukraine, natural disasters and the COVID pandemic have put humanitarian aid in wide demand.

While the organization needs about US$20 billion to bring aid to everyone in need, it usually aims to get about US$10 to US$14 billion in grants from different countries, which is what it’s received in recent years. By the end of July, it had reportedly only received US$5 billion. With a funding gap of 60%, chief economist Arif Husain said the WFP has “never seen this type of shortfall” in its whole history. This drop in funding is due (at least partly) to donor fatigue and spending on the pandemic.

The development: Over the summer, thousands of people depending on WFP aid saw that help decrease and, in some cases, get suspended altogether. Services have been affected in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, Jordan, Palestine, South Sudan, Somalia and Syria. In its latest analysis on Tuesday, the agency shows that for every 1% cut in food assistance, 400,000 people end up in emergency hunger.  With these numbers, 24 million more people could face emergency level hunger over the next year.

Husain recently said that the group needs to widen its donor base and start working on the root causes of world hunger, like climate change and conflict. It’s saying that if it continues without proper funding, the world will be facing a “doom loop,” where the agency will only be able to help those who are literally starving, causing those who are dangerously hungry to begin to starve.

Key comments:

“The largest food and nutrition crisis in history today persists,” Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the WFP, said in July. “This year, 345 million people continue to be acutely food insecure while hundreds of millions of people are at risk of worsening hunger.”

“With the number of people around the world facing starvation at record levels, we need to be scaling up life-saving assistance – not cutting it,” said WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain.

“For the 15 million people who do not know where their next meal comes from in Afghanistan, we're only able to provide three million people with emergency food assistance,” said Hsiao-Wei Lee, the Afghanistan Country Director for the WFP.