JOHANNESBURG, Mar 30 - A surprise decision by Angola to reject genetically modified food aid threatens to disrupt distributions to hundreds of thousands of people - many of them newly returned after the country's two-decade civil war - the U.N. food agency said Monday.
The decision, announced by Angola's Council of Ministers on March 17, comes at a time when the World Food Program is already battling funding shortfalls for its program in the oil-rich southern African country.
U.N. officials are currently in discussions with Angolan authorities to determine the implications for a 19,000-ton shipment of U.S. corn that had been earmarked for the country. If there is no clarity by Wednesday, the United States could redirect the corn to another country, officials said.
Angola, a nation of about 14 million people, was ruined by the war pitting the government against UNITA rebels. Up to a half-million Angolans fled their country before it ended in 2002. The fighting also drove some 4 million people from their homes.
Some 3.8 million have now returned to their rural homes, but about 1.5 million remain dependent on food aid, according to WFP figures.
Despite pressing needs, Angola is struggling to compete for funds with other aid-dependent countries.
Donors have privately questioned the government's commitment to resolving humanitarian problems in a country where one in every four dollars in oil earnings is unaccounted for, according to anti-corruption activists.
So far, WFP has only been able to raise 24 percent of the $143 million it needs for the year beginning April 1, the agency's regional director, Mike Sackett, said in Johannesburg.
Next month, it will be forced to reduce its cereal rations by 30 percent, he said. If no new donors are found by June, they will be cut again to 50 percent.
Details of the ban, which does not apply to milled grain, remain unclear, and the decision has not yet been officially implemented.
But it could have major implications for Angola, which receives up to 77 percent of its food aid from the United States. American biotech companies have been at the forefront of promoting genetically modified food, or GMOs, which can be made to resist insects or disease.
African countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe have also rejected biotech food aid.