WFP chief: 2005 exceptional year of disaster - but even more challenges could lie ahead

Published on 28 December 2005

The Executive Director of WFP, James Morris, describes 2005 as the most challenging year the humanitarian aid world has faced since World War II, but also warns that the New Year will undoubtedly bring further emergencies and even greater demands on donors.

The Executive Director of WFP, James Morris, has described 2005 as the most challenging year the humanitarian aid world has faced since World War II, but also warned that the New Year will undoubtedly bring further emergencies and even greater demands on donors.

“The fact is that 2005 was an exceptional year of disaster for millions of people across the world,” Morris said, recalling the relentless onslaught of the Indian Ocean tsunami, drought and locusts in Niger, continuing conflict in Darfur, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Stan, and concluding with the devastating earthquake in Kashmir.

Hope for calmer year

Part of the problem is that we have become inured to television pictures of drought, floods, landslides and earthquakes - even to wars. We still feel compassion, but we have lost the sense of urgency

James Morris, WFP's Executive Director

“None of us knows what 2006 will bring. We can hope for a calmer year, with timely rainfall and limited seismic activity. But we have to be prepared for every eventuality. And if that means appealing for even more funding from our donors, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.”

Morris expressed concern that in contrast to the overwhelming response to the tsunami, many WFP operations remain dangerously underfunded.

For example, its appeal for US$100 million to provide air support for UN relief operations in Pakistan is less than half funded (US$42.6 million), while its operation to feed some 10 million people in southern Africa is more than US$100 million short of the US$317 million needed by April 2006.

Lost sense of urgency

“Part of the problem is that we have become inured to television pictures of drought, floods, landslides and earthquakes – even to wars.

"We still feel compassion, but we have lost the sense of urgency. And what we feel as individuals is reflected in action by governments – the donations come in, but often more slowly than needed,” Morris said.

In the end, however, the response of most donors to crises in 2005 had been terrific, he said.

Overcoming the time lag

Morris said one of the biggest challenges that WFP currently faces is in overcoming the time lag between a disaster occurring and donations coming in.

One way WFP is achieving this is by drawing on reserve funds in anticipation of donations coming in. However, the agency is also experimenting with a scheme to provide famine insurance to vulnerable populations in regions prone to drought.