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Liberia's war is over; humanitarian donations plummet

LIBERIA'S WAR IS OVER; HUMANITARIAN DONATIONS PLUMMET

MONROVIA - As Liberia strives to recover after 14 years of devastating civil war, the United Nations World Food Programme has warned that unless immediate donations are received, it may be forced to cut back on its food assistance to hundreds of thousands of Liberians. Such cuts would undermine the country's delicate transition towards stability.

WFP has received less than half the funding needed for its West Africa programme, which covers Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Contributions amount to just US$32.4 million out of the requested US$77.7 million. Unless further donations are made immediately, WFP will be compelled to start cutting food rations to beneficiaries in Liberia as early as July.

"Peace is making an uneasy comeback in Liberia," said WFP Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Manuel da Silva. "After years of fighting and destruction, Liberians must be able to reclaim their homes and livelihoods for stability to take hold. But progress is severely hampered if people lack basics such as food."

Liberia's war killed over 200,000 people, displaced at least half a million, and gutted the country's infrastructure. Roughly one million Liberians remain undernourished and go without adequate food on a daily basis.

Most people in the country still cannot grow food or earn money to buy it. The war destroyed agriculture and markets along with the roads and the transport system. Desperation and displacement are often an inevitable outcome of war but food aid can keep both in check.

WFP is currently providing emergency food rations to 490,000 people in Liberia - including daily meals for 258,000 primary school students. With adequate funding, the agency plans to extend school feeding in the coming months, to reach 350,000 students across the country.

With more than 60,000 child soldiers in Liberia needing help to turn their lives around, a single WFP meal at school can keep a child in the classroom. In countries recovering from war, vocational training and school feeding are critical to enable citizens to return home and rebuild their country.

In addition to school feeding, WFP provides food rations to displaced populations and newly returned refugees, gives life-saving rations to malnourished people (particularly children), as well as running food for training and other asset-creation projects.

Many of WFP's interventions are in areas which were inaccessible for long periods, due to insecurity; it is these areas that require most help to recover.

"The post-war rebuilding of an entire country is both daunting and expensive, but the alternative is to allow it to slide back into chaos," said da Silva. "Food aid and other humanitarian assistance will facilitate re-opening schools, building roads and bridges, and training people who lost precious productive years to the war."

The rehabilitation of ex-combatants also requires assistance; as part of a country-wide programme, to date the United Nations has disarmed over 26,000 ex-fighters. Within the disarmament process, WFP will provide assistance to 165,000 people - 45,000 ex-combatants and their 120,000 dependents.

Since agriculture provides former soldiers with an alternative to warfare for their survival, seeds, tools and food assistance offer them the chance to give up their weapons.

"Ordinary people are doing their best to help themselves and aid workers are doing their best to assist. Liberia's fragile peace can only succeed with the backing of firm international commitment," said da Silva.

Donors who have contributed this year to the regional appeal for US$77.7 million include: United States (US$25.2 million), Japan (US$2.3 million), Switzerland (US$1.4 million), France (US$1.2 million), the Netherlands (US$1 million), Canada (US$382,000) Norway (US$ 245,000) and South Korea (US$40,000).

WFP's Air Support Service for the West Africa Coastal Region is also seriously underfunded, with a 60 percent shortfall US$3.2 million required and only US$1.3 million received. Donors who have contributed this year to this special operation are: EC - ECHO (US$538,000), United States (US$500,000), France (US$202,000), Switzerland (US$74,000), Ireland (US$25,000).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

Ramin Rafirasme
WFP/Dakar
Tel. +221-8496500

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
WFP/Rome
Tel. +39-06-65132602
Mob. +39-347-2582217
e-mail: Brenda.Barton@wfp.org

Gregory Barrow
WFP/London
Tel. +44-20-75929292
Mob. +44-7968-008474
e-mail: Gregory.Barrow@wfp.org

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564
Mob. +41-79-2857304
e-mail: Christiane.Berthiaume@wfp.org

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel. +1-212-9635196
Mob. +1-646-8241112
e-mail: rowe@un.org

Jordan Dey
WFP/Washington
Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149
Mob. +1-202-4223383
e-mail: Jordan.Dey@wfp.org