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WFP In the Public Eye, In Uganda, India, Chad and at the Top, Not Yet on North Korea Audit

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, June 3 -- While the World Food Program was among the five UN agencies whose programs in North Korea were targeted for "urgent audits" by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this year, now it stands alone as having no audit released.

            On June 1, a preliminary report was released at UN Headquarters and a press conference was held. At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson

Inner City Press: It doesn't mention the WFP, but WFP obviously is active in North Korea and they said they were arranging for an audit through their own separate mechanism.

Spokesperson:  It is a separate audit.

Question:  Will that be released here?  Will that also go to ACABQ? [The UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.]

Spokesperson:  Well, if it is going to be released, it is going to be released by the WFP.

Question:  Right, but does it go to ACABQ here in New York?

Spokesperson:  I will try to find out for you what process this specific audit will follow, but you can ask questions about UNDP to David Morrison.  He will be here at 1 o'clock.

            At the 1 p.m. press conference, the other four agencies were discussed, but there was no word from, or presence of, the World Food Program. In part this may be explained by the fact that the bureaucratic path for such an audit is different for WFP than the other four agencies, which are under the UN Board of Auditors. But the public does not distinguish between, or care much about, these bureaucratic distinctions. All five are UN agencies. So how can one of the five simply slip from the list, and not yet be audited?

            To its credit, WFP has been answering questions that have arisen in the public record concerning its operations in Chad, India and about the "cash or butter" debate. See below.

WFP's Josette Sheeran Shiner, all smiles in Darfur per WFP

            On May 10, Inner City Press asked WFP to respond to charges leveled in an article entitled "Huge wheat subsidy scam; Bonn, Cremica in the dock," including that the Food Corporation of India

"had supplied 13,000 tons of wheat to Bonn Breads and 30,000 tons to Cremica Foods at a highly subsidized rate of Rs 415 per quintal. These firms were to supply bread and biscuits for the UN's World Food Program. However, instead of manufacturing bread and biscuits, they allegedly sold it in the open market within a few days of the purchase for double or more than the double price."

       After interim responses and an inquiry, WFP has responded:

Subject: Update on Indian Wheat

From: Paul Risley  [at]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Sent: Wed, 30 May 2007 5:16 am

Matthew,  My apologies for being tardy in response.

The World Food Program provides vitamin-enriched wheat biscuits for school feedings in five states in India.  We buy the biscuits from manufacturers on barter terms, i.e., WFP buys wheat from the Food Corporation of India that we then give to the biscuit manufacturer to both turn into biscuits and as payment for the processing.  This is done on a competitive basis -- the lowest bidder gets the contract.   The wheat we buy from FCI is subsidized, a subsidy that is transferred to the biscuits which are distributed to the eligible poor under WFP projects, as for which the subsidy is intended.  

Contracts with the two manufacturers are ongoing and deliveries of the biscuits are on schedule and as per quality requirements; approximately 640,000  school children, eat these biscuits every day in five Indian states (This is a WFP food delivery program that is meant to be replicated on a larger scale in other states across India).  The article is misleading in suggesting that the manufacturers had sold wheat that was intended for biscuits ( "However, instead of manufacturing the biscuits .."); indeed, the manufacturers have produced the biscuits as required under contract.  

Following publication of the article that caught your attention, the WFP Representative in India met with Government of India counterparts and asked for a government review of the actions of the two companies.  From its side, WFP has checked on the two companies' contractual compliance and is satisfied with the result. Until GoI has completed its investigations, WFP India and GoI agreed not to write a rebuttal to the Indian press allegations. I will send you a further update if necessary then.

            Well alright. On the wider issue of food versus cash donations, WFP has provided Inner City Press with the following response from Deputy Executive Director, John Powell:

"The debate isn't really about whether cash is better than food.  The reality is that WFP doesn't have enough of either.  Circumstances vary and our experience is that there is a time and a place where food and cash can make the difference.  Unfortunately, the reality is that less than 5% of the resources that WFP receives from donor governments are given to us without restrictions on when, how and where we can use them.

"We've got to realize that the world in which we live is changing rapidly.  Gone are the days when the big agricultural economies of the world were producing huge surpluses of food.  Today we live in a post-surplus disposal world, and it's getting harder and harder to meet the needs of a growing number of hungry people when there is less food around and commodity prices are higher.

"Globally, we're facing a real squeeze in meeting the needs of the hungry.  World cereal stocks are at their lowest levels in 20 years, and increasing demand for food form China and other parts of Asia is leading to sharp increases in the prices of wheat and maize.  You then add the impact of biofuel production, which means less grain is being produced for food use.  And on top of that we're facing shipping congestion on the high-seas and high costs for transporting cargo because of relatively inflated fuel prices.  Taken together it's a challenging environment for an agency like WFP and means the money we raise simply doesn't go as far as it used to.

"Climate change has an impact on the supply side as changing weather patterns make agricultural production more uncertain, and it also has an impact on the demand side as the frequency of natural disasters increases and hits the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.  Chronic hunger is a growing problem, it already affects more than 850 million people and the latest figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization say it's increasing at a rate of 4 million a year.  WFP is caught between feeding more people and having less financial muscle to achieve those aims."

            Inner City Press has asked for Ban Ki-moon's position on the above referenced "impact of biofuel production [that] less grain is being produced for food use," and got this (non) response:

"The Secretary-General is aware that a number of UN studies have recently been released regarding biofuels and the opportunities and challenges they pose for developing countries, the world's poor as well as the environment. The emerging issue of biofuel development merits to be carefully evaluated in all its aspects by UN bodies and the international community as a whole so that its impact can be fully taken into account by Member States, civil society and the private sector."

            While Inner City Press has held off further inquiry on issue surrounding the selection of WFP's current Executive Director Josette Sheeran Shiner, the same is not true of others, further discussed here. We will look forward to Ms. Sheeran Shiner finally making herself available for questions, not only on these topics, at UN Headquarters, which has yet to happen. For now we note that previous WFP executive director Jim Morris has just been named an advisor to... the Indiana Pacers basketball team, click here for that.

            Finally, for this interim WFP report, the following has been provided in response to an Inner City Press questions based on reports of suspension of WFP service to Eastern Chad:

Inner City Press asked: can you provide an update on the reported suspension of WFP service to the town of Iriba and in the Biltine district more generally?

WFP: Although WFP's office in Iriba remains closed (as do those of other humanitarian agencies) following the recent attack on our staff, WFP continues to carry out the essential work of pre-positioning food in the East ahead of the rainy season, which is imminent. No one is not currently
receiving food as a result of the closure of the Iriba office. June  distributions will begin shortly and we are confident that the situation in Iriba will have improved sufficiently for WFP and others to continue work as normal.

Inner City Press asked about testimony in the U.S. Congress on May 10 that "In Sudan alone, WFP is supporting the food needs of almost two million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur and another million people living near the IDP camps in Darfur who are affected by the crisis. To date, the U.S. has borne a disproportionate share of this food aid burden, providing about 475,000 metric tons per year for Sudan and Eastern Chad." From WFP's perspective, is the 475,000 metric tons figure accurate for, as it seems, Sudan and E. Chad together? Is there a break-down between the two? And any description of what the food aid consists of?

WFP: I do not have the figures for Sudan to hand as this falls outside my remit. In 2006, the US provided a total of 24,376 mt of food for WFP eastern Chad operations. Food aid consists of:

- Regular monthly food distributions for Sudanese refugees (2,100 kcal rations per person per day). This predominantly wheat and sorghum, but also smaller quantities of corn-soya blend and pulses.
- Nutrition support for children under 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers
- Food distribution for IDPs (1,800 kcal rations per person per day)
- Food-for-work activities for refugee and IDP crisis affected local population (1,800 kcal per person per day).

Inner City Press asked about WFP's May 14 press release about food for Chad transported through Libya, are the "6,000 tons of food.... still in warehouses in Khufra."

WFP: In Khufra there are some 5,200 mt that are expected to have been dispatched by end May. Some 3,800 mt has already arrived in Chad through the Libyan corridor and another 8,600 mt is en route.

            Well alright. One earlier WFP response:

"Regarding the Sri Lanka article, WFP Country Director Jeff Taft-Dick was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in his capacity as the acting United Nations Country Team Resident Coordinator at the time, a summons unrelated to WFP operations in Sri Lanka.  The two 'UN staff arrested by the LTTE' were national employees of UNOPS working in LTTE-controlled areas."

            Inner City Press will be asking UNOPS, the UN Office of Project Services, about this, as well as about the North Korea audit, regarding which they, UNFPA and UNICEF have yet to say anything. Developing.

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540