NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — After early delays caused by massive infrastructure damage, the World Food Program is now providing food to 3 million typhoon victims in the Philippines, but the needs there and in Syria mean Somali refugees in Kenya are seeing food assistance cut by 20 percent, WFP's top official said Friday.
Ertharin Cousin said the loss of key bridges across many islands in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan has complicated the aid response, but that food deliveries are ramping up. The island nation's unique geography combined with destroyed bridges and washed-out roads has left isolated communities in need, leading to criticism of the time lag from residents.
Philippines officials said Friday that the typhoon's death toll had risen above 5,000 and was likely to climb.
"If I'm a mother and I can't feed my child, my only statement (to journalists) is I need food, and that's what gets reported. And while we can talk about bridges and debris and planes and trucks what they want to hear is how fast is the food going to get to me," Cousin said.
"By Wednesday after the storm we had reached 50,000 people. By Thursday we had reached 170,000. By Friday 350,000 and so on until today when we've reached 3 million," she said.
WFP has appealed for $102 million for its Philippines response. The organization has received about a quarter of that so far, Cousin said.
The World Food Program's biggest individual feeding program is in war-torn Syria. WFP feeds 4 million people inside the country and 1.8 million outside and spends $40 million a week in Syria. The needs in Syria and the Philippines have meant less money for other crises in what Cousin called the "more invisible, less reported places of the world."
Refugees in two camps in Kenya, including the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, have had food rations cut by 20 percent in November and December. WFP is $40 million short of its needs in Kenya this year, the price of one week of Syria operations. Ration sizes have been cut once this year in nearby Congo and more cuts may come next month, Cousin said, unless WFP finds an additional $75 million.
One refugee who has lived in Dadaab for 22 years, Macaruf Abdi, said residents believe the cuts in food aid have been even higher than 20 percent.
"The people, they are crying. They have a lot of problems about the food. They are saying we don't have enough food," the 38-year-old said by phone from Dadaab. "People are saying 'We want to go back to Somalia if there is no food here.'"
The U.N. refugee agency, Kenya and Somalia signed an agreement this month to try to accelerate the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees. The timing of the food cuts and announcement of the agreement have the potential to fuel conspiracy theories of a concerted effort to force refugees to return.
"It's thus particularly important that we resume full rations as quickly as possible to be sure that returns are genuinely voluntary," WFP said in a statement.