WFP announced today that it is launching an emergency food operation to help 580,000 vulnerable people during the bitterly cold season in Kyrgyzstan – many of whom have felt the impact of a combination of high food prices and a fall in remittances from expatriates working abroad.
“Winter is a brutal time in Kyrgyzstan. We will be providing food to those who are unable to meet their basic food needs due to the past year’s high food and fuel prices,” said Daly Belgasmi, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
Wheat prices have risen by more than 20 per cent and fuel costs have gone up by almost one quarter since the beginning of the year, severely limiting the purchasing power of the most vulnerable groups. At the same time, remittances from Kyrgyz expatriates have decreased, due to the global economic downturn. Many people are now struggling to feed their families.
Job opportunities down
Remittances from abroad can make a significant contribution to poor households in developing countries. As the economies of industrialised countries contract, opportunities for employment in the construction, retail and service sectors are falling, and affecting the job prospects for expatriate workers from countries like Kyrgyzstan.
“The poorest are eating less food with less nutritional value,” said Zlatan Milisic, WFP Country Director in neighbouring Tajikistan who will oversee the operation. “Many are selling their animals and other family assets. We recognise the severity of the situation and are moving fast to meet their needs.”
During 2008, the Kyrgyz people have also suffered two droughts, a sequence of locust infestations, hailstorms and spring frosts. These factors have caused serious damage to the agricultural sector, despite an increase in land under cultivation.
Nutritional and health risk
According to the initial findings of a WFP assessment conducted in October 2008, one household in five is at high nutritional and health risk. Their diet is extremely low in calories, and the amount of fats and oil being consumed is going down.
The WFP emergency operation – which has a budget of US$8.4 million - will provide a ration of wheat flour and oil designed to meet the food needs of those families living in rural areas and districts where more than one-fifth of the population are not getting their full daily nutritional requirements.