UN Refugee hunger-relief fundraiser gets boost from US Brands

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - The United Nations World Food Programme, running short on cash to help feed the largest flood of refugees in recorded history, on Sunday will debut a new fundraising and awareness campaign backed by the donated advertising firepower of brands like McDonald's and Google.

The number of men, women and children forcibly displaced by war, conflict and persecution swelled to new high of 59.5 million at the end of 2014.

Despite that, and an ongoing Syrian conflict that UN aid agencies have described as one of the worst refugee crises since World War Two, the WFP is grappling with dwindling donations that have forced it to cut aid and rethink its corporate fundraising efforts.

Rather than cash, WFP sought donations such as television and social media advertising time with the goal of reaching new audiences, said Jay Aldous, WFP's director of private sector partnership.

"This gives us a megaphone," said Mr Aldous. "We think the sum total of using the voices of all of these companies is greater than the sum total of a singular financial gift."

McDonald's Corp led the first-of-its-kind campaign for WFP, commissioning a 30-second commercial for the hunger-relief agency and helping to recruit other companies. DreamWorks Animation secured actor Liam Neeson for the voice over on the ad, which is timed to coincide with the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21.

Other participating brands include MasterCard Inc, Burger King, Cargill Inc, Facebook, Google Inc, Twitter Inc, United Airlines , McCain Foods and OMD Worldwide.

WFP says it needs more than $7 billion to provide assistance to hungry people around the world in 2015, but the agency is on track to bring in only around $4 billion, less than last year's total contributions of nearly $5.4 billion.

This year's funding shortfall forced WFP to drop hundreds of thousands of Syrians from its voucher program and to halve the value of remaining vouchers for Syrian refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, said Abeer Etefa, a WFP public information officer based in Cairo.

As a result, Syrian refugees with vouchers receive less than 50 cents per person, per day to buy food, which can include perishables such as fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs, she said.

Within Syria, WFP has had to reduce by about one-fourth the amount offood in baskets it distributes. Those contain basics such as rice, oil, dried beans, canned foods, sugar and salt.

The cuts are coming at a difficult time for many families whose resources have often been long depleted, said Etefa. "They are in survival mode."

WFP said the money raised in the new campaign will go to their emergency response fund which supports crises in and around the countries of Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.

Apple Inc and Google separately have pledged millions of dollars in financial support to assist the waves of refugees streaming into Europe from war-torn countries.