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What WFP cuts mean for people in hunger crises around the world

‘If the amount is decreased again, you won’t find a camp that will agree to receive the aid as it’s not enough for anything.’

A stylised image of a WFP sack full of grain. Composite using image from Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Amid an unprecedented global hunger crisis fuelled by climate change and conflict, the World Food Programme’s bleak funding outlook has forced it to make deep cuts to the assistance it provides to many people experiencing acute hunger around the world. 

“Today, WFP is facing a 60% funding shortfall,” a WFP spokesperson told The New Humanitarian via email on 13 December. “Nearly half of 86 WFP country operations have already implemented, or plan to shortly implement, significant reductions in the size and scope of life-saving food, cash and nutrition assistance programmes.” 

Globally, more than 333 million people are facing acute food insecurity. The cuts to WFP programming could push 24 million more people into that category over the course of the next year, the UN agency estimated in September.  

WFP cuts around the globe

*This map shows WFP cuts or suspensions in countries where The New Humanitarian was able to obtain specific confirmed information. There will be others elsewhere as WFP acknowledged cuts – or imminent cuts – in nearly half of its 86 country operations.

WFP cuts around the globe

*This interactive overview shows WFP cuts or suspensions in countries where The New Humanitarian was able to obtain specific confirmed information. There will be others elsewhere as WFP acknowledged cuts – or imminent cuts – in nearly half of its 86 country operations.

A series of often overlapping factors are driving the current global hunger crisis, including the effects of the climate crisis, conflict, disruptions to the global food supply chain caused by the war in Ukraine, sky-high inflation, and slow post-COVID-19 pandemic economic recoveries.

But hunger has deeper structural roots too. Food security systems in many colonised countries were weakened as communities were forced to grow export cash crops to suit the demands of colonial powers. In the post-colonial period, agricultural policies remained focused on exports at the expense of local needs, while global organisations pushed farmers to adopt industrial technologies that can erode food sovereignty. Hunger elimination was further undermined by the unequal trade system, by land-grabbing, and by the conditional lending practices of global financial institutions.

One of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies, WFP raised a record $14.1 billion last year – a substantial increase over the $8 billion it reported in 2019. But the funding hasn’t been able to keep pace with rising needs or the pace of inflation, which increased the agency’s procurement costs by 39% between 2019 and 2022.

For 2023, WFP says it needs $23.5 billion to fund its global operations but is projecting it will receive only $10 billion, a spokesperson told The New Humanitarian.

An expected, sector-wide “donor reset” could also see funding decrease significantly after years of growth, meaning the lean times at WFP – and their consequences for people facing hunger – may be here to stay for the foreseeable future.

A recent “Hunger Hotspots” report from WFP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that acute food insecurity is likely to worsen in 18 hunger hotspots through April 2024, with highest concern of starvation in Burkina Faso, Mali, Palestine, South Sudan, and Sudan.

Over the course of the last several months, The New Humanitarian spoke to WFP staff and dozens of people in countries around the world who rely on the agency’s rations and cash assistance to better understand the impact of the cuts on those living on hunger’s edge. Here’s a region-by-region breakdown:

Asia and the Pacific

Over half of the people in the world facing moderate to severe food insecurity reside in Asia and the Pacific, where the number of acutely food insecure people rose from 62.2 million in 2021 to more than 69.1 million by the end of 2022.

WFP’s cuts are having a particularly severe impact in countries where years-long crises are overlapping with disruptions to the global food supply chain, rising inflation, natural disasters, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events linked to the climate crisis.

In Afghanistan, for example, the cuts have meant that WFP has been forced to choose “between the hungry and the starving”, Philippe Kropf, head of communications for the agency in the country, told The New Humanitarian during an aid distribution event in Kabul in September.

Kropf said some 15 million Afghans are currently facing some kind of hunger, but that WFP would only be able to reach three million of them as the country’s winter set in. The agency has had to drop 10 million Afghans from its assistance rolls in 2023.

There is “a new face of hunger” in Afghanistan, according to Kropf, one that is popping up in urban centres, where people were previously able to rely on blue and white collar salaries to feed their families.

Up to 900,000 jobs were lost in the country following the Western withdrawal and the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul in August 2021.

Kropf said the new urban poor were among the first who lost assistance due to the WFP cutbacks. With its limited resources, the UN’s food agency has prioritised particularly vulnerable groups, such as widows, households headed by women, and children.

For those who continue to receive support, the monthly cash assistance amount WFP provides to households has also been cut from 5,000 afghanis (about $72) to 3,200 afghanis (about $46). That amount is intended to cover food costs for two weeks, rather than a full month. Because of the funding cuts, WFP is not able to provide even those still receiving aid a full monthly ration.

Razia, one woman at the distribution, who only provided her first name and was in her 30s, said she would use the money to try and feed her 11-person household. “Realistically, this will only buy us some flour and oil. That’s it,” she said.

Razia was grateful for the help she had received from WFP over the past four months, but said it just doesn’t go very far. “You try and try, but each month 3,000 afghanis will only really buy you a couple of items,” she said.

Kropf described Razia as one of the “fortunate ones” as her family is at least continuing to receive some assistance after the cuts.

The situation is also dire in Bangladesh, where around 900,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a campaign of genocidal violence by the military junta in neighbouring Myanmar are packed into sprawling tent settlements and overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar. 

WFP has had to cut the assistance it provides back to just $8 per month – or $0.27 per day – from $12 at the beginning of the year, which was already considered the bare minimum people needed to be able to survive.

Mohammed Zonaid, who has lived in Cox’s Bazar since 2016, told The New Humanitarian that 2023 has been the worst year for Rohingya there. Zonaid, who shares his shelter with eight other members of his family, said the drop in financial assistance has shrunk the diets of people in the camps.

When families were receiving $12 per person, they could buy rice, lentils, onions, salt, cooking oil, and eggs each month. Now, families can only afford rice, cooking oil, and salt, according to Zonaid. “We are 100% dependent on what WFP provides us,” he added.


Multiple regions on the African continent are experiencing food crises due to the same overlapping effects mentioned above, and due to the long-term disruption of traditional food security systems by external forces during the colonial and post-colonial periods.

According to a new regional food security analysis, nearly 50 million people will face hunger in West and Central Africa in mid-2024, an increase of 4% from the same period this year. Conflict is driving this high number, according to the analysis, with the nutritional situation particularly worrying in Burkina Faso and Mali, where military juntas are battling jihadist insurgents.

In East Africa, 65 million people are facing acute food insecurity. Drought and flood events in the Horn of Africa region are among the most recent proximate causes, with Somalia suffering over 40,000 excess deaths last year, half of which may have been children under five. In Ethiopia, the impact of the war fought primarily in the northern Tigray region continues to be felt, with recovery hampered by the aid freeze ordered by WFP and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) over allegations of large-scale food theft. Hunger rates have also soared in Sudan since conflict broke out in April between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

In Chad, WFP is struggling to feed more than 540,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur who fled to the east of the country between April and November, escaping massacres and acts of alleged ethnic cleansing by the RSF. As RSF atrocities continue, that number will only increase, while WFP said that food aid to 1.4 million people, including many of the newly arrived refugees, will end in January because of a shortage of funds. The UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, reports that 5.7 million people in Chad are food insecure, with 2.1 million suffering from acute hunger.

In September, The New Humanitarian witnessed a delayed food distribution operation in Ourang camp, one of the hastily built refugee settlements near the border town of Adré, which opened in June to accommodate Sudanese refugees. Many of those in need failed to receive assistance. “The number of refugees was much higher than the [distribution] lists,” said a frustrated WFP official, who asked not to be named.

The operation’s start was postponed by several days as aid trucks struggled to navigate eastern Chad’s rough roads, increasing the anxiety of the 44,000 refugees in Ourang waiting for rations.

“We received some sorghum sometime after we arrived in Chad [in June], but nothing since,” said Um Zuhor Adam Osman, a 19-year-old from El Geneina, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state. “It’s very difficult for us. Some people in the camp have received food, but we haven’t yet. The children eat only once a day.”

Malnutrition is widespread among the new arrivals. MSF supports a 250-bed paediatric ward in Adré hospital, which is always full.

“The kids were fine before. They never had to go to hospital when we were in Geneina,” said Zeinab Yacoub Arbab, a 29-year-old mother of two who lives with her family in the Ourang camp. “Everything was available there. But now we can’t feed them and ourselves properly. We left with nothing and don’t have money to buy food on the market. We are totally dependent on aid, and what we receive is not enough.” 

In Uganda, WFP has had to cut the rations it provides to refugees several times since 2020. The country hosts more than 1.5 million refugees, one of the largest refugee populations in the world. The WFP cuts have led people to go hungry and contributed to factors pushing many families to return to their countries of origin, even when they are not stable or safe.

WFP introduced its latest cuts in July after rolling out a new system based on refugee vulnerability. Those considered most vulnerable now get 60% of what WFP calls basic survival rations; the moderately vulnerable get 30%; and the least vulnerable get nothing.

Refugees told The New Humanitarian that the successive cuts and new “prioritisation” system have left them struggling to meet basic needs, especially as changing weather patterns make it harder for them to farm around their settlements.

In Bidi Bidi, a large refugee camp in northwestern Uganda, Loy Mama said her family has been eating only one meal a day to make the meagre rations they receive as members of category two last as long as possible.

“This food is not enough for me and these children,” Mama told The New Humanitarian during a visit to Bidi Bidi in August. “I do not know how I will complete a month.”

Moses Nyang, a South Sudanese refugee in the Adjumani settlement, which is also in the northwest, said the prioritisation system has had a negative impact on community cohesion.

“It has set refugees against themselves,” said Nyang. “It compromises our peaceful co-existence. You are getting something; I am not getting something. What do you expect my attitude towards you to be?”

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East relies heavily on food imports, exposing countries with food insecurity due to war and economic collapse to new fluctuations in global food prices due to the war in Ukraine and ongoing supply chain issues. Increasing heat waves and droughts make conditions even worse, with local farms producing less food and income

An April World Bank report predicted that economies in the Middle East and North Africa would grow at a slower pace this year, with double-digit food inflation hitting poorer households and threatening food security. 

"The report estimates that close to one out of five people living in developing countries in MENA is likely to be food insecure this year,” said Roberta Gatti, World Bank Chief Economist for the MENA region, in a statement released with the report. “Almost 8 million children under 5 years of age are among those who will be hungry. Food price inflation, even if it is temporary, can cause long-term and often irreversible damage.”

That’s not taking into account the war in Gaza, where 63% of people were estimated to be food insecure even before Israel began bombing and laying siege to the enclave in October – following the deadly attack and hostage-taking by the Palestinian political and militant group Hamas. A recent WFP assessment found that, with around 85% of the population forced to flee their homes, extremely limited and irregular aid access, and no commercial goods allowed in by Israel or Egypt, food consumption levels are “extremely alarming”. 

People desperate for food have broken into UN warehouses; and at the end of a December ceasefire WFP warned that renewed fighting “will only intensify the catastrophic hunger crisis that already threatens to overwhelm the civilian population”.

Some of the countries in the region where WFP works have long-standing problems with food insecurity and poverty. Yemen, home to one of its largest interventions in the world, has been on the edge of famine more than once since its war began in 2015. As of the end of October, 13 million people in a country of around 29 million were receiving food assistance, although low funding meant “reduced rations equivalent to 41%” of the standard food basket. 

In early December, WFP announced it was pausing its general food distributions in northern parts of the country controlled by Houthi rebels, due to limited funding and “the absence of an agreement with the authorities on a smaller programme that matches available resources to the neediest families”.

Even before these changes, WFP estimated that food insecurity – as of October – was down slightly from the previous year: 50% of households it surveyed in parts of the country controlled by the internationally recognised government were still unable to meet their minimum food needs – the number was 46% for households surveyed in parts of the country run by the Sana’a-based Houthis.

The situation is also growing increasingly dire in Syria, where conflict, economic collapse, the climate crisis, and the aftermath of earthquakes earlier this year are overlapping with global factors and severe aid underfunding to drive a hunger crisis. A WFP spokesperson told The New Humanitarian by email that 12.7 million people were projected to be food insecure across the country in 2024, with a further 2.6 million “at risk of falling into hunger”. The agency predicts a 29% increase in the number of severely food insecure people living outside* of camps for internally displaced people in the country in 2024, as compared to this year.

Suhaib Abdou, 40, lives with his family of 14 in a camp for displaced people in Kafr Aruq, in the northern countryside of rebel-held Idlib province. Home for his wife, five sons, and seven daughters is a well-worn tent, six metres long and four metres wide, in which they have sectioned off a kitchen, a sitting room, and a space for sleeping.

The camp where they live is home to 295 families in total, and there are only 11 shared restroom blocks, or one block for every 27 families. Hunger and humanitarian needs have been rising for years in the rebel-held northwest, which is home to 4.5 million people; 2.9 million have been displaced at least once. The last few months have seen an increase in bombings by the Syrian government and its Russian allies, forcing even more people to flee their homes.

Abdou began receiving food aid after he had to flee his own home in the city of Saraqib in late 2019. His family currently receives one food basket from WFP every 60 days, down from once every 30 days in the past. He said the contents of the basket were reduced in the spring. 

“We’re having one meal a day,” Abdou said. “When he can, my brother living abroad sends me some money to buy food for my kids.”

Without the extra cash, the family struggles to get enough to eat.

“If my brother doesn’t send me money, I’m not able to provide food for my kids,” he said. “There are kids who go to the trash containers to get food when their share is out, and they sometimes collect scraps to sell it so they can buy bread.”

Abdou said his family doesn’t eat fruit, vegetables, or meat because they can’t afford them. “If the amount is decreased again, you won’t find a camp that will agree to receive the aid as it’s not enough for anything,” he added.

Abdou spoke to The New Humanitarian before the WFP’s early December announcement that, starting in January 2024, it would be stopping its general food assistance programme in Syria altogether.

The WFP spokesperson said that low funding forced WFP to reduce the number of people who receive general food assistance from 5.5 to 3.2 million in July. That lower number “will no longer receive general food assistance from January 2024 onwards”, according to the spokesperson.

The total number of people who will still receive some sort of WFP aid in Syria is not clear, as some programmes – including those for earthquake survivors – will likely be ongoing. And general food aid could be restarted if new funding comes in but, for now, the spokesperson said that “discontinuation of general food assistance amid this situation is expected to have serious consequences on people who need it the most”.

Latin America and the Caribbean 

Between 2021 and 2022, the prevalence of hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean fell from 7% to 6.5% of the region’s population – or some 43.2 million people. But this bird’s-eye view masks a dramatic rise in hunger in the Caribbean and fails to capture that in some countries, such as Ecuador, overall hunger rates plateaued while the percentage of people slipping from moderately to severely food insecure increased.  

In 2023, WFP only received funding to finance 37% of identified needs, reducing mostly its emergency response activities. Cuts have already affected four countries: Haiti, Ecuador, Honduras, and Colombia. 

In Colombia, WFP’s funding has dropped by 30% to 40% this year, and in Ecuador by 50% for emergency response. Programmes targeting pregnant and lactating women and children under two in Ecuador have been suspended, while rations were reduced for others, and the duration of time the aid was provided for fell as well. In Honduras, WFP reached only about 50% of the targeted population. Among those who received assistance, 95% were children benefiting from school meals. Funding for other operations is extremely scarce.

In Haiti, where soaring gang violence has been both driving up needs and hampering aid work, funds for emergency response were almost exhausted by September, and operations in the country have only received 10% of the funding needed. Some 4.9 million people in Haiti – over 40% of the population – now face severe hunger. In July, WFP had to cut 100,000 people – 25% of emergency food assistance recipients – from its rolls due to dwindling funds. A total of 750,000 people who are in need of assistance have fallen through the cracks because of this lack of resources.

“It’s a very bad time to have to reduce the coverage of emergency programmes,” Jean-Martin Bauer, WFP country director in Haiti, told The New Humanitarian.

The New Humanitarian interviewed residents of the Saint-Aude Camp, a cramped settlement for internally displaced people in the heart of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, where 115 people, including about 30 children, live in tiny, sweltering houses.

Although the camp was established after the 2010 earthquake, it is now receiving people fleeing gang violence in other parts of the capital. 

Nickencia Sidney, a 23-year-old single mother, fled the Carrefour-Feuilles district of Port-au-Prince for the Saint-Aude Camp after gangs set her house on fire last July. Her two-year-old daughter, Naella Jean-Louis, is staying with friends while Sidney tries to find more permanent housing, and a reliable food source.

“It may happen that I eat once a day. It may happen that I don’t eat anything; I just stay like that,” Sidney told The New Humanitarian. “Sometimes, I have weakness and dizziness. When I stand up after sitting, I black out. When I’m out on the streets, my eyes hurt with the glare of the sun. Sometimes, I take to the streets, and I cannot walk because I feel so weak.”

In mid-September, by reprioritising funding, the WFP managed to finance 49,000 hot meals at 19 sites around the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area for seven days. People in Saint-Aude received one hot meal per day for a week. But Haitians who are living in camps often prefer to receive raw food because it lasts longer and gives them more flexibility to consume it or trade it for other items they need.

“I am very worried,” said Bauer, the WFP country director. “When there is an earthquake, you rebuild the country; when there is drought, you tell yourself that there will be an agricultural campaign and harvesting the year after. But now, we don't see the end of the problem.” 

The ongoing El Niño climate pattern – which typically brings more extreme weather, including more severe storms and rainfall in some places and drought in others – is expected to exacerbate food insecurity around the world, including in Ecuador, which is also facing a surge in gang violence

Hunger levels in the country have not yet risen, but the number of people who are severely food insecure rose from 6% to 7.5% in 2022, according to Crescenzo Rubinetti, head of WFP’s emergency preparedness and response team in the country.

“We are trying to prepare for [El Niño],” said Rubinetti. “​​But we had at the beginning of 2023 a high impact from heavy rain, with 100,000 people affected... There is no capacity in the country to respond to this kind of crisis.”

In Honduras, WFP estimates that about 2.8 million people are exposed to the climate crisis, but if donors do not pledge more funding, they won't receive any food assistance in case of emergency. 

Meanwhile, in Colombia, WFP expects those affected by El Niño to reach 1.5 to 3.5 million. “When we look at what has been foreseen for El Niño, there is a serious concern,” said Carlo Scaramella, the WFP country director there. “At WFP, at the moment, we do not have the capacity to respond to these needs.”

WFP Colombia expects funding cuts to be less dramatic in 2024 but is still anticipating a 15% reduction across all its programmes. At the regional level, however, WFP expects funding shortages for emergency response to increase and cuts to affect additional countries from the dry corridor of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

(*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the 29% increase in severe food insecurity referred to those inside the IDP camps. It refers to those outside the camps. This corrected version was published on 18 December.)

Ali M. Latifi reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Harold Isaac reported from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Abd Almajed Alkarh reported from Idlib, Syria. Sophie Neiman reported from Kampala, Uganda. Patricia Huon reported from Adré, Chad. Additional reporting from Philip Kleinfeld, Paisley Dodds, and Annie Slemrod in London, UK; Daniela Mohor in Santiago, Chile; and Kristof Titeca in Antwerp, Belgium. The interactive map was produced by Marc Fehr, Sofia Kuan, and Namukabo Werungah. Edited by Tom Brady, Eric Reidy, and Andrew Gully.

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