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WFP Concerned About Food Shortages in Bangladesh


World Food Program officials say they are concerned about food shortages faced by millions of people in northern Bangladesh. The shortages follow devastating floods that swept the country during the monsoon season.

The months of October and November are known as the "monga" in Bangladesh - the period when food stocks run out and job opportunities dry up before the main harvest season in December.

As a result, thousands of poor people go without adequate food for weeks. But widespread flooding in July and August has intensified the problem this year.

The World Food Program representative in Dhaka, Douglas Casson Coutts, says a severe food crisis is emerging in the north of the country because of soaring food prices and high unemployment.

"Eighty to 90 percent of these people are agricultural day laborers and they have not had much employment to speak of since the floods," said Mr. Coutts. "These are the same people, 20 to 30 million people who are the most vulnerable ultra-poor, they simply do not have the access to the food on the markets."

The government has initiated a program to sell subsidized rice at low prices. The WFP. also has put together an emergency operation for food aid to the poorest and most vulnerable.

But the WFP. says the programs cannot keep pace with the massive need. It estimates that one million children in Bangladesh are at risk of acute malnutrition and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women also are extremely vulnerable.

The WFP. also fears that it may not be able to carry on with its own program much longer without more assistance from donors. Mr. Coutts says the organization has received about one-third of the 74 million dollars needed.

"We have begun the operation already, but we are going to run out of food and run out of supplies by the end of this month," he said. "I guess I would make an appeal to our donors in North America as well as elsewhere in the West if they could step up to the plate [take action] and help us with this very serious problem."

The government says it is doing all it can to help the people. It plans to start a cash assistance program for very poor families this month.