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UN food program cuts back aid

There likely won't be enough money to feed everyone who qualifies for food aid in many African countries.

A Kenyan girl feeds on a meal of corn donated by the U.N.'s World Food Program in Nairobi's Kibera slum on May 26, 2009. Faced with budget cuts and declining donations of food, the WFP has cut back food aid to many African countries. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

ACCRA, Ghana — The worldwide financial crisis is now affecting Africa's hungriest people, in places like Eastern Chad and the Ethiopian steppes, as the United Nations World Food Program struggles to feed growing numbers of famished people on a tighter budget.

Despite the global economic crunch, global humanitarian giving to food support has actually increased slightly — but it just hasn’t kept up with global hunger, say U.N. officials.

The World Food Program had a $6.7 billion budget for 2009 but it has received less than roughly $2 billion so far. In its rosiest projections, the agency hopes to receive $3.7 billion by the year's end.

For Africans living off trucked-in food aid, that means lighter and fewer rations. Food agencies are surveying medical reports from distant camps to select which parts of the population they can cut from their programs.

In drought-troubled Uganda, the U.N. hopes to feed 2 million people, but has less than a third of its expected funding. Officials have had to suspend food deliveries to 600,000 Ugandans in the nation’s north alone.

In Ethiopia, the U.N. has altogether stopped food aid to 200,000 people who would otherwise be receiving regular rations. The number of people who qualify for food aid in that country has swelled from 4.2 million at the start of the year, to about 6 million, and the hunger season — when food from the last harvest runs out — began in earnest only last month. Officials have also had to cut specialized maternal and childcare services. The Somalia program, $130 million short, will likely cut rations in south and central Somalia, and cut all food aid to northern Somalia, as foodstocks peter out in October.

By the end of September, officials in Kenya expect to run out of cereals, the bulk of their food provisions.

“We fear that we could be looking at, in the next couple of months, the worst emergency in Kenya since the big drought in the year 2000,” said Peter Smerdon, senior spokesperson for the Kenya program.

In Rome, the U.N. announced that it will no longer be able to afford the chartered flights that bring U.N. doctors, nutritionists, sanitation experts and maternal healthcare workers into the remote small towns and refugee camps where so much U.N. food aid is distributed.