Food first

A hungry child sits in the rubble of her home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The house she has lived in is gone: the city is in ruins; shops, businesses and banks are closed. Where will her next meal come from?

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Up to 10,000 people work for the organization, mainly in remote parts of countries that most people wouldn’t dream of visiting. In my 10 years with WFP I have been based in Afghanistan, Kenya, Iraq, Somalia and now New York, where my work is to plan the response: how to get food to that little girl and her family in Haiti.

food first

by Shehzad Noorani/Still Pictures

Immediately following the earthquake, up to 3 million people needed emergency food assistance. In the highly populated capital, the narrow streets were clogged by remnants of the quake and endless traffic jams. The main port was largely destroyed, the airport was heavily congested as search and rescue teams arrived from all corners of the world, and our own warehouses were badly damaged and dangerous to access. It was WFP’s most complicated challenge in its history. Food was brought in by boat, by plane, and by road from neighbouring Dominican Republic, and then moved in convoy to 16 pre-identified distribution sites where up to 1,000 families would come each day to collect their two-week ration of rice.

Depending on the location, WFP uses donkeys, yaks and elephants to carry food to remote villages. Moving food is one of our biggest challenges, and this year WFP expects to reach 90 million people in 73 countries with 3.7 million tonnes of it. Governments are WFP’s principal source of funds, and contributions usually come in the form of cash or food. In an average year, more than 60 governments voluntarily provide funds, with which WFP purchases more than 2 million tonnes of food annually. WFP’s policy is to buy food as close as possible to where it is needed, and at least three quarters of it comes from developing countries. By buying locally the agency can save money on transport costs and help sustain local economies.

Timely contributions allowed WFP to begin distributing food to Haitians immediately following the earthquake; in order to save lives and move quickly, food was provided to all of those in need of assistance. As life has gradually resumed, the operation has shifted to food-for-work to support families as they rebuild their lives, school feeding programmes to help get children back into the classroom, and special nutrition programmes for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Working for WFP means getting your hands dirty. Its strength lies in its deep field presence: we pride ourselves on being able to get food to that little girl in the rubble. Whether working as a field monitor in Baghdad, where I first joined the organization, or as programme officer in Kabul, I have witnessed first hand what can be done in the face of adversity.

Denise Brown is Senior Donor Relations Officer at WFP.
To learn more about WFP’s work, see www.wfp.org
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This post is also available in: French, Spanish