With 7 million people in Pakistan receiving food aid each month, the head of WFP’s operations there explains why even flood victims in temporary camps may favour receiving food they have to cook themselves over food that's ready-to-eat. Answering six questions, Wolfgang Herbinger also explains how food aid comes into play when people return to a village wrecked by floods.
What exactly are flood victims receiving from WFP?
We give them a monthly family ration, with the basic nutrition they need. That means wheat flour for bread, oil for cooking, pulses for protein, iodised salt and, very importantly for small children, we’re distributing ready-to-use food [a sort of nutritious paste that can be eaten from the packet – ed]. For school children, we have high energy biscuits.
In this situation, is it best to give people ready-to-eat meals or standard food rations?
In crisis situations, even when people are displaced, on the road, they still would prefer to receive the type of ration we have been giving rather than food that is ready cooked. It’s a family thing, to sit together, to cook it together, and eat together. They find ways and means in all situations to prepare their meal together.
Pakistan suffered from widespread hunger even before the monsoon floods, with an estimated 82.6 million people – a little less than half the population – estimated to be food insecure.
What about cash?
As people return, in some areas, markets start functioning again, and then cash could be an alternative. People will use the cash to buy food for themselves, and that is a good thing – it starts the economy working again. But the food they buy on markets will not have the same nutritional value as what we give. So we factor these things in. We have started using this option, but for the most part, right now, we think food is the right solution.
There are plans to give people food in return for rebuilding work. Why not just give them the food?
In early days, as people go back to villages, [food aid] is not tied to work. We just want them to go home and stay there and start to rebuild their lives. Food helps them get started by themselves. And we do see that when people get home, they clean up the village, they work on their land. This is the first phase.
However, over the next months, we have to focus on those who have no other means [to support themselves] and then we make food conditional on work. So, in our ‘food for work’ projects, people get food in return for working on community infrastructure, private assets. It helps them get back on their feet.
What sort of things do they work on?
You have to see how a village looks after flood. Many houses were built of clay and they collapsed; they need rebuilding. Irrigation channels are silted up, they need cleaning. Roads have been washed away, they need to be rebuilt. So you see there’s lots of earthwork that needs doing .
What’s your main worry for the next few months?
We have to still worry about the resources that we need to help people get back on their feet. I really have to thank the international community. Donations so far have really made a difference at a time when people were displaced. But now they are going back, they’re having to rebuild houses, plant on their land. So we need to help them for another six months in 2011.