US-sanctioned country asks UN for help to feed children

Aprilia Rine

US-sanctioned country asks UN for help to feed children

Cuba has appealed to the World Food Programme (WFP) for help with providing milk to children on the island, for the first time in its history, the UN body has acknowledged.

Havana has admitted to milk shortages for weeks, but has not made the request to the WFP public. The agency confirmed it to the Spanish news agency EFE, in a written statement on Wednesday.

The WFP “has received an official communication from the (Cuban) government requesting support to continue the monthly delivery of 1 kilogram of milk for girls and boys under the age of 7 throughout the country,” the agency’s mission in Cuba said.

The WFP also confirmed that “this is the first time that Cuba has requested assistance” by sending an official communication to the WFP leadership. The UN agency noted the seriousness of the request given the “deep economic crisis that Cuba is facing,” which “significantly affects the food and nutritional security of the population.”

According to EFE, the Cuban request was made “at the end of last year” to the WFP headquarters in Rome, Italy. It did not specify a time frame for the aid, prompting the agency to mobilize additional resources and involve “non-traditional donors” to meet the need.

The WFP has already delivered 144 tons of “skimmed-milk powder,” enough to help “almost 48,000 children between the ages of seven months and three years in Pinar del Rio and Havana.” This is just 6% of the children whom the Cuban government wishes to provide with subsidized milk, however.

Cuban families with children aged seven and younger, as well as people with special dietary needs, receive ration cards that would enable them to buy milk at a heavily subsidized price of 2.5 Cuban pesos (about $0.21). The government has struggled to deliver the milk in recent months, however, and some regions have either imposed further restrictions or replaced milk with “vitaminized drinks.”

Liquid and powdered milk can be bought in Cuba from private companies, but their price is reportedly beyond the reach of most Cubans, who rely on government-subsidized goods.

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Cuba has been under a near-total US embargo since 1962, with Washington seeking to block any other countries from doing business with the island until it embraces “democracy.” A combination of the embargo and the Cuban government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically worsened the island’s economic situation over the past three years.

Havana recently announced the end of many subsidies, leading to a sharp increase in prices of goods ranging from cigarettes to utilities such as electricity, water, and natural gas.

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