UN needs $20m for region's poor

Companies in the Mena region have been urged to help feed the poor affected by unrest in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

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The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has called on the region's companies to provide US$20 million (Dh73.4m) in aid to feed the poor affected by unrest in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

At a discussion organised by PepsiCo in Dubai, the WFP country director for Egypt, Gianpietro Bordignon, said the agency needed $49m to help battle hunger in North Africa but had only $29m.

"We badly need $20m straight away," Mr Bordignon said. "We have to increase our assistance. Food was a concern before the crisis but now it's putting more people in need. We have to be able to respond to the needs."

The WFP has had 20 staff in Libya since the unrest began last month, and sent fresh convoys with 150 tonnes of biscuits and wheat flour early this month.

The agency is working in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and on the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, setting up the structure for deliveries in the three countries.

Lack of food and rising prices have been at the core of unrest throughout the Mena region, sparking the protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

"We never stopped [during the unrest]," Mr Bordignon said. "When the game gets tough we get tougher, because we work for the people."

The WFP is trying to reach 1 million people across Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, all of whom live on less than $2 a day per capita.

"We go in and do an assessment to see who's got the greatest need," said Monica Marshall, the global head of private partnerships. "It's an initial situation because it's such a chaotic situation."

Ms Marshall hopes private-sector companies will immediately pledge aid to North Africa to help make up the organisation's funding shortfall for the three-month, $49m emergency operation.

Globally, the WFP requires $165m to help 100 million people with long-term food projects, but has only $60m to spend.

The group allocates about 70 per cent of money raised from governments and the private sector to emergency projects such as the unrest in the region and the earthquake in Japan.

The other 30 per cent is spent on long-term projects to help build sustainable communities that can manage the production of food in difficult conditions, or against the backdrop of climate change.

In 2006, PepsiCo launched Tomooh, an education programme in Egypt, working directly with the WFP to battle hunger and malnutrition, and prevent students from dropping out of school.

Saad Abdul-Latif, the chief executive for PepsiCo in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, said the company's goal was to "put back into communities" by providing people with healthier products, and by offering environmental measures and expertise.

"We are a part of this society and we need to give back in the places that we operate," Mr Abdul-Latif said.