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Post-war Food Relief

In August 1940 Prime Minister Churchill promised in a speech in the House of Commons that “after the defeat of the enemy” Europe would receive food and relief from abroad. A few months later Great Britain set up a Committee of Surpluses with the purpose of acquiring stocks of relief goods. As early as September 1941 an Inter-Allied Committee on Post-War Requirements was set up in London. In the following year and a half, the Committee compiled detailed schedules of the post-war import requirements of the occupied areas in Europe. Also in 1941 a

Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration with headquarters in Cairo was set up in order to care for the Polish and Greek refugees who had escaped from the Germans. As we know, their activities were later taken over by the UNRRA. Meanwhile, various interdepartmental committees in the United States had been actively studying post-war needs and, after Pearl Harbour, all these activities were centralised in a special Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations under the Department of State. Operations were carried out in 1943 in Tunisia, where feeding programmes were launched, refugee camps established and health services provided.

But as a consequence of the invasion of Europe, the need for large- scale international action and coordinated efforts became more apparent and necessary. After consultations between the American and British governments, the aforementioned institutions presented a draft agreement for a Relief Organisation to the United Nations. The proposal was adopted by representatives of 44 states from United and Associated Nations of the UN on November 9, 1943, in favour of the creation of a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Its member states were later increased to 48. The purposes of the new organisation were broad and sweeping, as stated in Article 1 of the Foundational Agreement:

  • (a) To plan, coordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of war in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services; and to facilitate in such areas, so far as necessary to the adequate provision of relief, the production and transportation of these articles and the furnishing of these services.
  • (b) To formulate and recommend measures for individual or joint action by... member governments... for the purpose of achieving an equitable distribution of available supplies.
  • (c) To study, formulate and recommend. measures with respect to such related matters. as may be proposed by any of the member governments.[1]

The UNRRA Council, which was made up of one representative of each member state, was the central policy-determining body. Decisions were made by a simple majority vote. A Central Committee composed of representatives of the USA, the United Kingdom, the USSR and China made policy decisions of an emergency nature between sessions, although they were subject to reconsideration by the full Council. Two Regional Committees were created, one for Europe and another for the Far East, made up of representatives of the member governments in each area. They were competent to make recommendations to the Council for their own area. A number of technical committees advised the Council on specific questions, such as supply, agriculture, displaced persons and health. A Director General was the executive authority responsible for the carrying out of the directives given by the Council. Headquarters were established in Washington DC and the European Regional Office was located in London.

In the years between its creation and 1946 numerous regional offices and country missions had been established, comprising a staff of almost 17,000 officials. A great number of the staff were involved in relief work, with the activities supposed to finish at the end of 1946 in Europe.[2] The UNRRA was financed by the governments of its member countries and initial contributions fixed in Atlantic City totalled approximately one per cent of the national income for the year ending June 30, 1943. In August 1945 the Council recommended a second contribution from each such country on the same basis, the total funds of the organisation being estimated to reach 3.77 billion U.S. dollars.[3]

In practical terms, large as these sums were, they proved small when compared with the enormous needs, and therefore assistance, that had to be arranged in a highly selective way. Relief was limited to such liberated areas that lacked the foreign exchange needed to pay for their own imports. Only health and welfare services could be provided to all liberated areas under the authority of the Director General. Indeed, the UNRRA’s activities came to be restricted to a relatively small group of liberated countries, with limited relief programmes authorised later for some ex-enemy countries, notably Italy, Austria and Finland.[3] Requirements were determined in practice on the basis of estimates submitted by claimant governments. The regional committees for Europe and the Far East first determined the needs of different commodities for their own geographic area and, since national relief budgets began to emerge, funds could be translated into real programmes of operation, eliminating less urgent requirements and placing increasing emphasis on food.

The estimated quantities and value of supplies by main groups shipped by the UNRRA from all sources to liberated areas up to the end of 1945:



































Source: [John Lindberg], Food, Famine and Relief, p. 94.

An ad hoc Sub-Committee for Europe drew up the theoretical scales of nutritional relief requirements for Europe after the war. This Committee met on May 5, 1944, under the chairmanship of Karl Evang, a Norwegian physician who was active in the Norwegian Support Committee for Spain. It also included representatives from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, the French Committee of National Liberation, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, the USA, the USSR and Yugoslavia.[5] The standards considered were declared to be in the nature of “minimum requirements, which, if possible, should be introduced as soon as territories have been liberated”. As a general basis for determining such minimum requirements, the Committee recommended “the use of an average level of consumption of the total population of each of the countries concerned of 2,650 calories per head per day for essential relief needs for the period under consideration”.[3]

Regarding the composition of the diet, the experts’ commission included sufficient amounts of milk and eggs for special groups of the population: pregnant and nursing women, children aged up to seven and sick individuals. All in all, the average diet had to contain a daily allowance of 75 g of fat and 60 g of protein, of which about half was of animal origin. The committee looked forward to excluding bread from rationing policies in liberated areas as soon as possible. Although these scales were lower than the recommended allowances for optimum health and efficiency, the experts estimated that family budgets could contribute some extra food purchased from the retailers. The ad hoc subcommittee for food regarded these requirements as “inadequate in respect to total protein and animal protein” for populations whose health had been seriously undermined by prolonged existence barely above the starvation level. A higher protein intake of around 80 g - of which no less than 30 g was to be of animal origin - was the recommendation of the experts in those cases. However, the determination of needs was separated from the procurement of supplies to meet the requirements, as supply allocation was not handled by the UNRRA but by the Combined Food Board, which was made up of representatives of the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom. The various commodity committees were composed of representatives of the main exporting and importing countries for each commodity.

After the UNRRA had explored national requirements and brought the relief budgets of the receiving countries into line with real resources, it presented the claims on food for the liberated areas to the Combined Board, trying to match legitimate claims with available supplies. Having its own service of official information, the Combined Board was not bound to accept the UNRRA claims as they were proposed.

In April 1945 the UNRRA began to deploy large-scale activities, and by the end of February 1946 it had shipped 3.8 million tons of food to 12 nations. Also in April 1945 the Allied military authorities entrusted the organisation with the responsibility of relief in several liberated countries, and throughout the year assistance was given to 12 countries, although substantial supplies began to reach the Far East only in the last part of the year. The UNRRA’s food requirements in the second half of 1945 were about 2.9 tons. Although at the time some foods, especially wheat, were not under allocation, by the beginning of 1946 it had actually shipped 1.8 million tons, which meant roughly 62 per cent of the actual requirements.[7] But with the need for meat amounting to 304,817 tons, allocations were only 63,000 tons, which represented 20 per cent. It was only in terms of wheat, milk, cheese and some minor items that shipments almost reached requirements. At the top of the list: Greece received 1.3 million tons, about 35 per cent of the total; Italy received 381,000 tons; 279,000 tons went to China; other countries received a total of 14,000; while 0.7 million tons went to the rest. Food relief after the Great War - when the needs, according to the experts, were smaller - amounted to 6.2 million tons, of which not less than 4.8

million were shipped during the first eight months of 1919. In 1946 deliveries continued to fall short of scheduled operations.

The 3.8 million tons of food shipped up until the end of February 1946 were composed of cereals, enough to feed about 12 million people during one year. The total relief deliveries of food after World War I amounted to 6.2 million tons, including large quantities of lard.[8] Although total UNRRA shipments increased in March 1946 to 1.5 million gross tons, shipments of food fell below this schedule.

  • [1] Ibidem, p. 92.
  • [2] Ibidem, p. 93.
  • [3] Ibidem.
  • [4] Ibidem.
  • [5] Ibidem, p. 94.
  • [6] Ibidem.
  • [7] A statement by the Director General on the War Food Crisis, Council IV,Document 50, C(46) 30, 18 March, 1946.
  • [8] Relief Deliveries and Relief Loans, Geneva, League of Nations, 1943.
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