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Urgently needed food shipped to isolated city of Cap Haitien

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - The first shipment of urgently needed food aid has departed the Haitian capital today, destined for the northern city of Cap Haitien where it will be distributed to 181,000 vulnerable people in the north of the country, the UN World Food Programme announced today.

The WFP-chartered cargo vessel was loaded with 1,550 MT of food, valued at US$900,000, and is expected to arrive in Cap Haitien on Friday, 26 March.

"Over the last two months, Haitians in the north have been cut off from humanitarian supplies. The securing of the two ports by international troops is enabling this - our first shipment to get through and provide some relief. But we need guarantees, from all parties, of safe and timely distributions once the food arrives," said Guy Gauvreau, WFP Country Director in Haiti.

The food will re-supply the stock looted from the WFP warehouse in Cap Haitien on Sunday, 22 February, following the seizure of the city by rebel forces and enable WFP to provide a one-month balanced ration to beneficiaries in the north and northwest regions. These include 90,000 school children and 91,000 vulnerable people, many of whom are expectant and lactating mothers, and HIV/AIDS orphans.

Until now, the regular supply of food, as well as the movement of other humanitarian aid, has been severely hampered across the country, and delays in negotiations to open a humanitarian corridor via the northwestern town of Gonaives have prevented normal commercial and humanitarian supplies from reaching many parts.

"Vulnerable people, especially children cannot wait. They need the food now," said Gauvreau. "That is why we sent small road convoys north last week, to assist the schools that have been able to reopen and have no food left. But by road, we can currently transport only 100 MT per day. In one single day, the boat will carry over 1,550 MT, allowing us to feed most of the people who need our help," he added.

During the weeks of civil unrest, WFP has continued to distribute food to some targeted institutions, including health centres, schools and orphanages in Port au Prince, as well as in Port au Paix and Cap Haitien.

"We face logistical challenges, but insecurity is still our main concern," added Gauvreau. "The truth of the matter is that as long as there is political instability in Haiti, both the number of people in need of food aid and the amount of funding required to help them will increase."

WFP is appealing for a total of US$11.2 million to provide immediate relief in Haiti to an increasing number of vulnerable people affected by current civil strife. The US$8 million Emergency Operation, which will run from mid-March to mid-November 2004, will provide urgently needed food to an additional 140,000 expectant and nursing mothers, children under three, people affected by HIV/AIDS, orphans and homeless children who have been deprived of regular access to food following over two months of civil unrest.

The five month US$3.2 million Special Operation portion of the appeal will provide the agency -- as well as partner humanitarian organisations -- critical logistics and communication support needed to fully resume humanitarian assistance in the country. In addition to the emergency and special operations, WFP will continue to target 373,000 vulnerable people through already existing operations helping school children, expectant and nursing mothers, HIV/AIDS orphans and people severely affected by drought and recurrent flooding.

To date, France (US$1.5 million), Norway (US$912,000), Japan (US$458,000), and Spain (US$373,000) have contributed to the operation, covering approximately 29% of the total requirements.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
WFP/Rome
Tel: +39-06-65132602

Rene McGuffin
WFP/Rome
Tel: +39-06-65132430

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva
Tel: +41-22-9178564

Jordan Dey
WFP/Washington
Tel: + 1-202-653-0010
Cell: +1-202-4223383

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel: +1-212-9635196

Guy Gauvreau
Country Director
WFP/Haiti
Tel: +509-51 5714

IƱigo Alvarez
WFP/Haiti
Tel: +509-550 86 94

Alejandro Chicheri
WFP/Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507-3173900