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    Ethnic Albanian refugees reach for a loaf of bread being distributed in the center of Kukes, Albania.
    Thousands of ethnic Albanians continue steaming into Macedonia and Albania. Many have walk for days without food to reach border check points swelling with refugees.

    Judy Cheng Hopkins, Balkans Regional Manager for the United Nation's World Food Program, joined us from WFP headquarters in Rome discussed the refugee crisis (Previously scheduled guest, Catherine Bertini, was not able to join us today).

    Read the transcript below.

    Bethesda, Md.: This morning we saw a Reuters photo of a Kosovar refugee pleading for food during a rush on a bread van in a Kukes, Albania, refugee camp. Is this a typical scene at a camp?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: Unfortunately, some food distribution in Kukes is handled by the local officials and it has been unruly at times. this is not a WFP food distribution in which food is either delivered to families or people line up for their rations. WFP has already complained to the local prefect about some of the distributions in which food is tossed off the back of trucks.

    Washington, D.C.: Can you please report how you are distributing food to the more than 500,000 refugees?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: WFP's main role is to coordinate the distribution which is usually but not always carried out by Non-governmental organizations (NGO's). WFP 's strategy has been: ensuring that ready to eat humanitarian rations are handed out at crossing points, that bread and canned foods are also made available and for those more settled refugees, either in camps or homes, the idea is to provide less costly basic rations such as wheatflour, beans etc. The movement of food (i.e. logistics) is a big challenge and here our strategy is to preposition as much food as possible in key locations, in the region so that a healthy pipeline can be built up

    Bethesda, Md.: I've heard reports that supplies have been piling up in warehouses because of the difficulty in transporting materials to refugees. Can you elaborate on this point? What other difficulties, other than the overwhelming numbers, are you encountering?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: It is precisely to avoid piling up of food in warehouses that WFP goes through the exercise of prepositioning food in strategic areas throughout the region. During the month of April, WFP plans to preposition some 20,000 metric tons to cater to the needs of the refugees for 60 days.

    Another challenge in this crisis especially in Albania is to anticipate the refugee crossings as well as where they would be moving to - again that's why prepositioning in locations which have good access to all parts of the country is important.

    Arlington, VA: I understand that food donations are pouring in from concerned citizens throughout the world. Typically, how are the collections distributed to the refugees? Say, if U.S. citizens, through local, independent humanitarian efforts had a food drive using collection centers, then how does it get processed? Is there a centralized locale to where the foodstuff is sent and compiled, then loaded onto C-130s? And where is the initial destination? How are these collections processed?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: WFP mainly receives govt. donations in cash, commodities and services since we move large amounts of food (i.e. 2.8 million tons) per year throughout the developing world. Thus in kind collections from the public are not appropriate. However we welcome donations in cash to "Friends of WFP." which has been set up in Washington DC c/o WFP, Washington DC - pls see our website at

    Baltimore, Md.: Judy,

    How do you determine which refugees are the most needy? Given what I imagine are pretty tight resources on the part of the agency, how do you allocate where and how much aid-food to give out?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: In such situations, in collaboration with UNHCR and others, we aim to feed all refugees.

    New York: Judy,

    I understand that most rations are vegetarian to keep everything "kosher" with the different religions. Is this the case? And what is included in those rations?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: Our basic ration is: wheatflour, beans, oil, sugar. In cases of vulnerable groups nutritionally at risk, particularly children, we provide enriched/blended foods. For the Kosovo Operation, because of the need for ready to eat foods, we have been providing packaged and canned foods (not pork because they are mostly Muslims) and bread. We're roughly half-way through this live discussion with Judy Cheng Hopkins, Balkans Regional Manager for the United Nation's World Food Program. Submit questions using the hyperlink below.

    Washington, D.C. : Judy,
    I've heard that for Kosovo it's better to send money than send food. Is this the case? Assuming your agency receives donated money to go to refugees, do you decide what kinds of food to purchase for them? Or do you give the money to other groups that do?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: Money is certainly preferable. We use that to purchase the basic rations that I had earlier mentioned either internationally or locally.

    Washington, D.C.: Can you please describe the condition of the refugees who have arrived to camps in recent days? Word is that many of them are in worse shape than those who arrived at the onset of NATO airstrikes. Can you tell us why?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: Yes, our staff on the ground tell us they look worse off, in fact, many are very traumatized, obviously food is in shorter supply and I wouldn't doubt that they have been more mistreated than the earlier refugees.

    Arlington, VA: Macedonian Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev, coordinator of the Government Crisis Headquarters, said that Macedonia cannot and does not want to be a state of refugee camps and has asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees -UNHCR- to intensify the program for transport of refugees to other countries. Do you know anything about this development?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: Yes the government of Macedonia is very clear about the sensitive ethnic balance in the country, also there are economic and social hardships associated with the war eg. export markets in Yugoslavia have dried up. Their position has been that refugees must be sent to 3rd countries before more are allowed in.

    Rosslyn, VA: How many more refugees are you expecting will cross the Kosovo border to relief camps?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: That is hard to predict but in the worst case scenario, one could assume that all Kosovars of Albanian origin will be expelled, that means in the addition to the over 600,000 refugees today, there could be a million more coming across.

    Durham, North Carolina: Given the UN's lack of leadership in the resolution of the Kosovo crisis, have WFP and UNHCR found their work more difficult. Has this affected WFP's ability to secure funding for their mission in the region?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: WFP and UNHCR work together in many such crisis situations throughout the world - the key is to coordinate our actions well with each other as well as all the other players.

    On the resourcing side, we have been quite successful.

    Arlington, Virginia : I understand Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Does the provision of free food and supplies create any tension between the refugees and the local population?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: What is quite amazing about this crisis is that Albanians in Albania are opening up their homes to the refugees, some even taking in 3 or 4 families into their modest homes and sharing what they have. We are not naive and do not believe this can go on forever, that is why there is now discussion among the relief agencies on how to assit the host families.

    Arlington, VA: Is this the worst crisis you ever worked on? How does the Kosovar refugee crisis compare to UN food distribution efforts in Rwanda, Somalia or in Asia?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: In terms of numbers this is small compared to Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, where the infrastructure is even worse off. Another thing I have noticed is that for Europeans, this crisis is happening in their own continent, in their backyard and strikes closer to home than refugees from faraway Africa or Asia.

    Washington, D.C.: Did the WFP stockpile food in the region in anticipation of the current crisis? If so, how much?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: Yes we had sufficient food for about half a million people even before the outbreak of this crisis because there were always displaced people and refugees in this volatile region. We diverted and transhipped food to respond to the new crisis and appealed for more.

    Bethesda, Md.: This is following up on your comment about possibly looking into assisting host families in Albania. Is the WFP considering giving the families money? Or would the help be in the form of supplies? Are families in Macedonia taking in refugees as well?

    Judy Cheng Hopkins: I believe the ratio is about 40:60 people living in camps and collective centres versus host families in ALbania. In Macedonia, I believe it is about the same or even more with host families. WFP's mandate is to feed refugees and that is a big enough job. We coordinate efforts with other agencies such as the Red Cross to provide comparable food items to the host families. That's all the time we have. Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks to Judy Cheng Hopkins.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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