ROME Extreme weather and other natural disasters, from the locust plague in West Africa to freezing weather in Peru, are presenting unique challenges for the United Nations World Food Programme at a moment when it is heavily involved in Darfur and elsewhere.
"Our people on the ground are struggling to combat the effects of these disasters on millions of hungry people," said John M. Powell, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme.
"When you're poor and hungry, losing your home to floods or crops to drought can mean the beginning of the end. Most of the people affected by natural disasters in the past weeks have no insurance policy and no savings to fall back on," Powell said.
Last week WFP launched a request to donors for US$74 million to feed one quarter of the 20 million people left destitute by devastating monsoon floods in Bangladesh. That followed hot on the heels of a US$97 million appeal to deliver food aid to drought-stricken parts of Kenya.
WFP is also intervening with smaller operations in Peru, where 300,000 people are suffering from the worst cold spell in 30 years. In Cuba, the eastern half of the island is undergoing the worst drought in 40 years while the western half suffered a devastating tropical storm last week.
Across the Atlantic in West Africa, more than a million people could need food aid as the biggest locust swarms the region has seen for more than a decade devour everything in sight.
Whilst the extent of damage to crops will not be clear until the harvest in September, the Gambia and Mauritania have already asked the international community for help; other countries may follow suit.
On the other side of Africa, in Ethiopia and Eritrea, poor spring rains are threatening the livelihood of populations already suffering from consecutive years of drought. Livestock owners in parts of Somalia are also facing severe water shortages.
Further east, in Afghanistan, WFP experts in Rome and in the field are carefully monitoring a drought in the south, which may affect up to four million people.
"In the last few weeks we have indeed been seeing the weather doing strange and dangerous things in many parts of the world," said CNN weather presenter Femi Oke, a strong supporter of WFP.
"These events can be devastating, especially for the poorest people who stand to lose everything they own. WFP food aid provides a vital lifeline while they put their lives back together."
WFP uses a sophisticated early warning system to monitor weather and other phenomena in an effort to intervene before disaster strikes. On the ground, it helps communities who live in the path of natural disasters to be prepared, so that they can minimise the damage to their lives and livelihoods.
"With so many disasters occurring at once, we now need to raise the flag to the international donor community, so they can be better prepared," Powell said.
Note to the editor: If you are listing organizations to which your readers can donate, please include our website for online contributions and a source of further information on weather disasters in the developing world: www.wfp.org. For a geographical view of the world's main hunger areas, click on to our new Interactive Hunger Map on the site. Online media services are invited to run the map on their website.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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