Act faster to help global food crisis, senators urge

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U.S. food aid is taking months to reach countries in need despite an urgent global food crisis, a bipartisan group of senators said on Tuesday, urging the Biden administration to speed up delivery as the war in Ukraine pushes more countries closer to the famine.

In a letter to Samantha Power, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, a Democrat and 12 Republican lawmakers said poor management of funding and staffing shortages were undermining the effectiveness of U.S. efforts against hunger in the world.

“Unless the United States translates well-meaning rhetoric and appropriate dollars into a swift humanitarian response, Russia’s crimes against humanity and militarization of the world’s food supply will go unpunished,” the senators wrote. . “The largest humanitarian aid proposal in modern US history must be accompanied by an infrastructure that assumes more cautious risk and delivers support quickly.”

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the lawmakers asked for “an explanation of why such vital aid may take six months to deliver.”

The request comes as the United Nations World Food Program warns of what it calls a global emergency, saying the number of acutely food insecure people has nearly tripled since 2019 to some 345 million. The agency, which provides food aid, needs some $22 billion to meet emergency needs in 2022, but faces a significant funding shortfall given soaring commodity prices.

Experts say the war in Ukraine, normally a major grain exporter, has deepened a slow-building crisis created by a combination of global conflict, climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and growing concentration in the global production system and of food distribution.

The United States and its allies, seeking to help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion, have pledged strong support for food insecurity, but advocates say more is needed. Countries in the Middle East and Africa, among those that typically depend on imports from Ukraine, are among the hardest hit.

The agency, in response to the letter, described the U.S. response to the food crisis as unparalleled “in terms of speed and scale,” and said that as of the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the ‘USAID will have spent more than 60% of the $7 billion in additional funding for humanitarian assistance.

“This assistance has been essential to not only put in place a robust response to meet the needs of Ukrainians, but also to rapidly expand assistance to places already facing acute food insecurity and hard hit by Russia’s war in Ukraine. , such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen. “USAID Acting Spokesperson Shejal Pulivarti said in a statement.

USAID said the remainder of the incremental funding would be expended by the end of 2022 “to ensure we are able to maintain a steady infusion of resources into humanitarian programs throughout the fall and winter months.” winter, when we expect to see the worst effects of the food crisis in many countries”. parts of the world. »

But senators allege USAID is moving too slowly and failing to get funding approved, meaning aid approved in a March assistance package for Ukraine may not reach recipients until fall. They said the agency has a woefully inadequate system for overseeing food aid contracts, with a staff of less than five procurement officers to manage more than 1,200 contracts.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), also cited reports that USAID leaders were “responsible for the relatively slow pace of programming by second-guessing humanitarian priorities and seeking to divert funding to support irrelevant development priorities, thereby undermining humanitarian assistance”. escalation and rapid response requirements to save lives and alleviate human suffering.

Signatories to the letter also included Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee , respectively.

Ernst, along with Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), is spearheading a separate effort to waive requirements that half of U.S. food aid under certain authorities must be transported on ships flying American flag, which can make aid delivery slower and slower. dear.

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