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WFP gears up response to high food prices in West Africa

WFP is expanding operations in West Africa to feed an additional 1.4 million people hard hit by high food prices in Guinea, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

The 1.4 million new beneficiaries come on top of the 3.6 million people WFP planned to assist in these six countries in 2008. West Africa is a chronically vulnerable region, highly dependent on food imports. Increased fuel prices and poor harvests influenced by floods and droughts are an additional challenge.

Vital steps to ensure the poorest people are not pushed over the edge
Thomas Yanga, WFP's Regional Director for West Africa
“WFP is taking vital steps to ensure the poorest people in West Africa are not pushed over the edge by the impact of high food prices,” said Thomas Yanga, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, adding that WFP’s efforts are designed to complement government responses already in place.

In rural Guinea it is now the lean season and many families are surviving on cassava and mangoes. WFP food distributions which started last week will help cover their immediate needs until the next harvest.

Scaling up food distributions

Across the region, and in support of government efforts to address high food prices, WFP is scaling up general food distributions to those worst-affected. Malnourished children, pregnant and nursing women, primary school children and people affected by HIV/AIDS will also benefit from WFP food assistance.

One way WFP is helping people in the region confront high prices is through community cereal banks. In Mauritania for example, WFP stocked cereal banks in the beginning of the rainy season, which allowed farmers to acquire cereals at a reasonable price and to plant their seeds, rather than resort to eating them.

Over the past 12 months, food costs for WFP operations in West Africa have risen by almost 60 percent and overall operational costs are now 30 percent higher. Increased fuel prices have also pushed up transportation costs as many regions in need of assistance are landlocked.

Country facts:

Guinea Conakry – This month WFP started distributions to an additional 600,000 people in the capital Conakry, as well as Middle, Upper and Forrest Guinea. WFP urgently needs US$14.3 million to cover the increased requirements.

Mauritania – Mauritania is severely exposed to the effects of high food prices as it depends on imports for 70 percent of its food needs. As part of the Government’s programme to face the challenge, WFP has since May been assisting 197,000 additional people.

Sierra Leone – In April, WFP started supplementary feeding at five centres in the capital to address increasing malnutrition in young children. WFP and the World Bank have developed a strategy to reach 207,500 urban residents that is planned to start in August.

Liberia – From September, WFP food assistance programmes will be scaled up to benefit 182,000 people, including 150,000 urban school children.

Burkina Faso – Starting August, WFP will start providing food assistance to 101,000 additional people: 50,000 children under three years of age and 51,000 pregnant and nursing women in the most remote areas of the country.

Senegal – WFP is planning to reach 65,000 people, including 30,000 children by September In order to reach a total of 540,000 people until the end of the year, WFP Senegal needs US$12 million.