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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

High food prices forces WFP to cut number of beneficiaries

BALINDONG, Lanao del Sur -- Because of high food prices in the world market, the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nation's food assistance arm, has announced that it will reduce the number of beneficiaries for its food-for-education project in Mindanao.

"It's even more important today for the WFP to provide the food assistance," Valerie Guarnieri, country director for the Philippines, told a gathering of parents and teachers in Lilud-Raya village here early this week.

But Guarnieri said the WFP has to cut back on the number of beneficiaries for the 2008-2009 school year owing to the pressure of rising food prices on its resources.

She hoped the reduction in the number of beneficiaries would be temporary as the WFP has intensified its campaign for more donations.

The WFP purchases rice in the international market, where the price of the staple grain has gone up by 40 to 60 percent, explained Guarnieri.

Guarnieri's announcement about the reduced number of beneficiaries was made after a discussion with the parents and teachers about the food supply situation in the town and their difficulties in coping with the rising prices of rice.

In this mountainous town on the side of Lake Lanao, rice is sold at P45 per kilo. Traditionally, the rice comes from Marawi City.

"It is very disturbing to hear how much high [rice] prices are affecting you," Guarnieri told the gathering.

Residents also told of their difficulties in finding cheap National Food Authority rice, since this is sold only in Marawi City, a 30-minute ride away.

"Back when rice was still cheap, they even had difficulty having adequate food," Guarnieri later told reporters in a press conference in Marawi.

The WFP, which aims to reduce the effects of high food prices among the poor and those caught in conflict and natural disasters, has described high food prices as a "silent tsunami threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger."

Guarnieri worried that hungry families would, among others, most likely decide against sending their children to school.

The WFP cited a study showing that 40 percent of parents who do not send their children to school cited lack of food as a big contributing factor.

The food-for-education program, the WFP's major program in the country, focused on conflict-affected areas in six Mindanao provinces. It seeks to help bring and keep children in school.

The program provides 12.5 kilos of rice each month to every pupil from Grade 1 through Grade 6 on the basis of 80 percent proven school attendance.

Over two years -- from July 2006 to April 2008 -- the program was able to assist nearly 187,000 children in 800 primary schools. It has also provided hot meals onsite to 16,000 children in 277 schools and daycare centers.

Another change in the program is its focus on fewer geographical areas, usually towns, but intensified coverage of the population within an identified target area.

Mishael Argonza, WFP's national program officer, said they would choose, based on a set criteria, towns in conflict-affected areas to be covered by the program and then pour its food assistance for as many deserving people as possible, to give the efforts focal impact.

Guarnieri visited Lanao del Sur along with popular television personality KC Concepcion, WFP deputy country director Alghassim Wurie, and Cetin Yalcin, country general manager of the global express delivery service firm TNT, in a bid to raise public awareness and understanding about hunger.

Concepcion is WFP's national ambassador against hunger in the Philippines, while TNT is its global partner in food assistance operations.

The visit to Lanao del Sur is a prelude to the launch on June 1 of "End Hunger: Walk the World," a global advocacy by the WFP in partnership with TNT to raise more resources for food assistance to Mindanao.

Guarnieri said the experience of the villagers of Lilud-Raya opened her eyes to the reality that the rice crisis has been affecting not only Metro Manila and urban centers but rural areas as well.

Last year, the WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, handed out food to 88 million people, mostly women and children, in 78 of the world's poorest countries.

After closing its 24-year operations in the country in 1996, the WFP returned in 2006 to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Mindanao by addressing the food security needs of vulnerable people in conflict-affected areas.

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Ex-Khmer Rouge minister in court

The Khmer Rouge's former social welfare minister has made her first appearance at Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court.

Ieng Thirith, 76, is seeking bail on charges of crimes against humanity relating to the regime's brutal four-year rule in the late 1970s.

Three of the five former Khmer Rouge leaders held by the court have already had their requests for bail denied.

One of them, 76-year-old Khieu Samphan, was taken to hospital on Wednesday morning with high blood pressure.

A spokesman for the tribunal, Reach Sambath, said that his condition not urgent "but necessitated attention".

The former head of state's efforts to write a book had led to stress, he said.


Ieng Thirith was one of the Khmer Rouge's founding members and its most powerful woman.

Her husband, Ieng Sary, was foreign minister and her sister was married to the movement's leader, Pol Pot.

Prosecutors say that as social welfare minister, she knew that tens of thousands of people were dying from starvation and disease on brutal collective farms - but did nothing to stop the disaster.

Ieng Thirith denies any wrongdoing. In court her lawyer argued that she required regular treatment for both mental and physical conditions.

A ruling on bail is expected next month. The trials themselves are expected to begin later in the year.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During this period an estimated 1.7 million people died from starvation or overwork as leaders tried to create a classless agrarian society.

Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle classes were tortured and executed.
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Three opposition parties compete with ruling CPP

Three opposition parties in Cambodia are competing with the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) for the parliamentary election on July 27, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday.

They are competing with his CPP sharply and they are also competing with each other for gaining votes, Hun Sen told a graduation ceremony at the National Institution of Education.

Each party is trying to get the position as the main opposition party in Cambodia when they aired on radios before the election campaign starts, he added.

The three opposition parties are the Human Rights Party (HRP) of former senator Kim Sokha, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), Hun Sen said.

He reclaimed that if the co-ruling Funcinpec party does not have a seat in the National Assembly during the general election, his CPP will lead the government alone.

The SRP is the main opposition party in the current National Assembly of Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua
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