WFP has taken to the tool of FAQs and answers to allay fears arising out of recent spate of publicity about its controversial rice supplies and the comments of John Ging, director of the Operational Division at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The southasia.com.au decided to publish the full text of the FAQs as it would enlighten readers about the humanitarian agency’s own explanation of the situation. Discrepancies however clearly remain between what the UN agency has said and what the Nepalese media has been reporting, in particular, about the claim that the spoiled food was never distributed (was detected before distribution) and that there have been only two instances when the rice was found to be inedible.
Below is the complete text of the FAQs as published on WFP website on July 2.
We know you may have questions about our emergency operations in Nepal. Here are some answers to questions raised on social media recently.
Q. I’ve seen reports that WFP is threatening to leave Nepal. Is this true?
A. No, this is not true. WFP has been in Nepal for more than 50 years – since 1964. We remain committed to working together with the Nepalese government and people to help with the recovery after the 25 April earthquake and, in the longer term, to achieve the government’s aim of ending hunger.
Q. I’ve seen on Twitter some tweets about food quality issues in Nepal. What’s going on?
A. All of the food that WFP has distributed to earthquake survivors in Nepal has been edible and safe for consumption. There have been two cases where food has spoiled, and in both cases the problem was quickly identified before distribution. No spoiled food has been given to the community.
Q. What happened in Laprak?
A. In Laprak, we investigated two separate claims of spoiled rice. In the first case, we found that the rice wasn’t from WFP – our rice was distributed in white bags and the rice in question was in yellow bags. In the second case, about a quarter of the rice that was delivered to Laprak on 16 June in our white bags had spoiled. Our partner, the Nepal Red Cross Society – with whom we work closely in Nepal and who carries out many of our food distributions – identified the problem before distribution began and set aside the 120 bags so we could replace them. None of the problem rice was distributed, and it is being replaced.
Q. What happened in Nepalgunj?
A. In Nepalgunj, WFP received a shipment of yellow split peas that did not meet our quality specifications. As soon as the problem was identified, the contract was cancelled and none of the food was distributed. Instead, we are sending the spoiled food back and have placed a new order with another supplier.
Q. What happened in Kabhre?
A. In Kabhre district in May there were some stories containing false claims about WFP rice being inedible. As soon as we heard these claims we investigated, including testing the rice. Lab tests found that the rice was safe and edible but it had a slightly higher percentage of broken rice grains than our quality standard. You can see the test results here, and a photo of the rice in question here. Broken rice means just that, the grains are broken during processing. It’s still ok to eat. However, we understand that there is often a personal preference for rice grains that aren’t broken so we replaced the rice and discontinued using that local supplier.
Q. What quality and safety checks do you have in place?
A. WFP has a rigorous food quality control system that is in place in all countries where we operate, including Nepal. We adhere to international standards and meet the Government of Nepal’s regulations. These standards are kept both during and outside times of disaster – there are no exceptions. In Nepal, the food quality system involves WFP, suppliers, transporters, partners such as the Nepal Red Cross Society, an independent inspection services and laboratory as well as the government. All of our suppliers, both local and international, must comply with international food safety and quality requirements and their performance is evaluated regularly. Once food is purchased its quality and safety are assessed against international standards. In Nepal, this is done by the Centre for Quality Surveillance (CQS), which is an independent third-party inspection service provider, and an internationally accredited analytical laboratory in India. Visual inspections are also made throughout the process, and there are rules about how our food can be best stored and transported. Our partners agree to these rules in writing as part of the partnership. When food arrives at the distribution point, the food is given one final visual check for quality before distribution.
Q. Don’t the two food spoilage cases prove your system has gaps?
A. The two cases actually show that the system works because in both cases the problem was identified before the food was distributed. None of it was handed out to the community. WFP investigates all complaints of food quality and safety as soon as they are received. Once an investigation is carried out we aim to rectify any identified problems as soon as possible. In the Laprak case, the problem rice was set aside and is being replaced. In the Nepalgunj case, the consignment of yellow split peas was rejected, the contract cancelled and the food was sent back to the supplier.
Q. How are you ensuring transparency?
A. WFP shares detailed information about its activities, in writing, twice a week, with the Government of Nepal. Meetings between WFP officials and ministries involved in the earthquake response effort take place several times every week. The Constituent Assembly Investigation Team visited WFP warehouses in Nepalgunj on 21st June and requested information from WFP. Our office in Kathmandu provided detailed documentation the next day on WFP procedures, suppliers, implementing partners, quantities and places of distribution to beneficiaries. As well, a WFP food technologist was deployed to Kathmandu to ensure continued close working relations between WFP and the Government on food safety.
Q. Where does WFP food come from?
A. The majority of WFP food comes from local suppliers. When their supplies are low, we buy from regional suppliers. Some countries donate and transport quantities of food.