Pakistani women struggle as they try to order food outside of a subsidized food store on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Wednesday, March 5, 2008. (AP / Emilio Morenatti)
The United Nations has issued an emergency plea to help close a funding gap of more than $500 million in its efforts to provide food to some of the world's neediest.
The head of the UN's World Food Programme on Tuesday said the organization needs help to meet its obligations in countries like Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme Sheila Sisulu said Canada has stepped up to the plate and other countries need to follow suit.
She said the UN is desperate for help.
"It is very, very serious. Even if we simply just take one country, Afghanistan, a few weeks ago we appealed ... for $77 million, just for one country because there was a shortfall in the amount of food we could give to them," she told CTV's Canada AM, speaking from Ottawa.
"Through the government of Canada, who gave us $10 million, we were able to meet their needs, but we need other assistance for food in other countries, in Africa, some other places in Asia and Latin America."
She attributed the current food shortage to three factors:
"Over the last few months in particular, all of this has come together to cause the prices of food to skyrocket like it has never done before."
- Higher demand due to the emergence of economies like China and India, resulting in low stockpiles of food;
- Climate change, which has hurt productivity and resulted in lower harvests;
- And the current high cost of fuel which has made it more expensive for producers to plant and harvest their crops and for the UN to get supplies to those who need it.
Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the agency, spelled out the need on Tuesday.
"Since June our cost of procuring food which we do in over 70 nations has gone up over 40 per cent. That means we can put less food in the cup or in the ration unless we get additional help."
Sisulu said there is a link between poverty and violence. When nations fall short of their obligations and the WFP is unable to provide the necessary relief to countries that need it, fighting often occurs.
"It is unfortunate when pledges are not met because it undercuts the capacity of aid agencies to bring calm and causes people to fight over limited resources," she said.
The WFP is the largest humanitarian agency in the world. The organization annually provides food to 90 million people living beneath the poverty line.