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World Food Program Responds To Philippine Disaster


The U.N. says it's gotten nearly $130 million from donor nations, about half the funds it requested just last week, to carryout the massive relief effort in the Philippines. Some four million people are homeless in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

The World Food Programme is one of the many U.N. organizations responding to that disaster. We reached its director, Ertharin Cousin, in Delhi, after she spent several days in Tacloban, the hardest hit city in the Philippines.

Good morning.

ERTHARIN COUSIN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Give us a picture of what you saw there.

COUSIN: Well, my first day there, I had the opportunity to visit Tacloban, which is the area that everyone is talking about. And flying over the area, what you see is just about every building has been affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The building's either a pile of rubble or the windows are blown out, the roof is blown off and enormous amounts of debris. The government has made significant headway, in the last several days, of removing the debris from the roads, so you're beginning to see traffic come back, people moving around and trying to get back to their homes to begin the repair work that needs to be done.

MONTAGNE: What are the survivors telling you that they need the most now?

COUSIN: When I was there, of course, they're still saying they want food. The good part about it was we were giving them food. Last Wednesday, we had unfortunately only managed to meet the needs of 50,000 people. As of now, we've reached 2.66 million people. And so it's been an exponential escalation as debris has been moved to give us the access to the people who are in need. And so now what they're saying is they need the nails and hammer and other tools to help them rebuild their shelter. They need the tools to help them rebuild their livelihoods. The rehabilitation work is significant.

MONTAGNE: The World Food Programme is active in so many difficult places, even in Syria in that conflict there. I'm wondering, given the scope of this disaster in the Philippines, is it affecting or compromising aid in other places, like for instance, Syria?

COUSIN: At this point it is not impacting Syria. The challenge is that Syria combined with this response is impacting other parts of the world - Somalia, Central African Republic, our programs in the Sahel. We are now beginning to face pipeline challenges because of lack of donor contributions because so much of it is being directed toward Syria and now Typhoon Haiyan response.

MONTAGNE: So what does that mean going forward?

COUSIN: What we are doing now is working to bring attention to the challenges that we're having in meeting the needs another parts of the world. And what we hope is that the donor community will not prioritize one hungry child, one needy person over another. If we continue to see the targeting of donations toward Syria and now Haiyan to the detriment of places like the Dadaab refugee camps or Somalis, where we've now cut rations portions by 20 percent in November and December and have very little for January, we could have some very significant security challenges. Not having the ability to feed people just exacerbates what was already very tense and very difficult situations.

MONTAGNE: Ertharin Cousin is director of the World Food Programme. She spoke to us from Delhi, having just left the Philippines several days ago. Thank you very much.

COUSIN: Thank you.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.