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World Food Program May Slash Food Aid to Cambodians

The World Food Program (WFP) warns it will be forced to slash food aid to hundreds of thousands of hungry Cambodians next month if it does not receive new donations soon. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva WFP says those who will lose out include young children and HIV/AIDS and TB patients.

The World Food Program warns more than 700,000 people will not get essential food in early February if it does not urgently receive $10 million in cash. WFP says this is the minimum amount needed to continue feeding more than one million Cambodians until July.

WFP spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, tells VOA those affected include some 650,000 children on school feeding programs. If this program is eliminated, she says, it is likely that parents will not send their children to school. Rather, she says, the children will be sent to work to get the money their families need to feed them.

"So, it is very important to feed these children in school, because by doing so we are killing two birds with one stone," she said. "We are feeding their body and also their minds. If their parents are assured and reassured that they will be fed at school, they will send their children to school. So, if we do not have those contributions, if we cannot feed those children, they will drop out from school."

Last year's Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute cites Cambodia as one of the 12 "hunger hot spot" countries listed as "extremely alarming." Nearly 35 percent of Cambodians live below the poverty line. As such, Cambodia is classified as a least developed and low-income, food-deficit country.

The World Food Program says nearly 90,000 people affected by HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis also are in line to have their food rations cut. Berthiaume says it is particularly important that people receiving treatment for HIV and TB receive food and nutrition.

"What is really dangerous for these people that are suffering from tuberculosis is the development of drug resistance to the disease if they do not complete their treatment," she added. "Food aid is a major incentive to draw patients to the health posts and clinics and receive their full treatment."

Patients who do not finish their treatment and go home without being totally cured become incubators for new types of TB that threaten society at large. Treatment of such cases can cost up to 100 times as much as the original medication.

The World Food Program has been forced to progressively reduce rations to beneficiaries since October because of a funding shortage. It says the cuts that are looming will be far more painful than anything to date.