The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced a plan to provide emergency food aid to 2.2 million people left hungry and homeless by this month's cyclone in Bangladesh over the next six months, while applying the lessons of past floods and cyclones to prevent a surge in malnutrition in the aftermath of the disaster. When previous cyclones have hit Bangladesh, there is often a surge in the rates of malnutrition, as those who lose their homes and livelihoods struggle to feed their families. "This time, WFP will start longer-term distributions to families with hopes of preventing increases in malnutrition throughout the region," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. "When parents and their children are malnourished, it is naturally more difficult for families to get back on their feet." Within hours More than four million Bangladeshis were hit by the cyclone on 15 November and within hours WFP food assistance including high energy biscuits were reaching thousands of the most vulnerable victims. So far WFP has delivered more than 300 metric tons of biscuits by road and by Bangladesh Air Force helicopter and C130 Hercules aircraft. It has also dispatched more than 430 tons of rice, using trucks provided by WFP's corporate partner TNT, who have also supplied personnel to help with logistics. Even during normal years, acute malnutrition rates tend to peak at over 15 percent prior to the main harvest, reflecting an increase in food insecurity as stocks of the previous season's crops dwindle. "Double peak" Past experience has shown, however, that in the wake of the cyclone, there is likely to be a "double peak" of wasting in the affected areas, with a first surge two to three months after the disaster, largely due to diarrhoea and infectious diseases, and a second surge due to food insecurity before the harvest. "While immediate food aid such as high energy biscuits continue to be rushed into the cyclone-hit areas, WFP is now ready to begin a longer-term, more comprehensive food assistance programme that will get nutritious foods directly to the children who need it the most. It is vital that we begin targeted feeding for children as soon as is feasible and continue this until the harvest comes in," said WFP Bangladesh Representative Douglas Broderick. Assessment Mission The emergency operation will follow the work of a just completed UN Rapid Assessment Mission, which found that there are approximately 4.7 million people in the worst affected districts and 2.2 million people are in need of immediate food assistance. The operation - which will cost US$52 million - will provide immediate relief assistance to over 2.2 million affected people and help them restore livelihoods and rural community infrastructures. WFP plans to provide a food ration consisting of rice, pulses, edible oil, blended food, salt and high energy biscuits. It will also provide food-for-work or cash-for-work to rebuild livelihoods. Donor support Broderick strongly urged donors to support the planned activities. "The generous support of our donors enabled us to get large amounts of food straight to the homeless and vulnerable people during the relief operations." said Broderick. "But we will require urgent funding for the expansion of safety nets for relief, and the early start-up of public work schemes to generate employment and much needed household income. These are key strategies for early recovery." Operational hub As more food assistance continues to be rushed to the cyclone affected areas, WFP is stepping up efforts to ensure the fast arrival of food aid for all victims, especially for the extreme poor in the cyclone-affected districts. WFP has established an operational hub in Jessore and is opening two field offices in Bagerhat and Barishal to deliver timely food relief, now including rice rations for families.