DAKAR - The United Nations' World Food Programme today expressed gratitude to the European Commission for a donation of seven million Euros to support WFP's emergency operations in West Africa. WFP will use the funds to buy food for hundreds of thousands of war victims in Liberia.
"Peace is making an uneasy comeback in West Africa," said Justin Bagirishya, WFP Representative in Monrovia. "After so many years of fighting and destruction, people must be able to reclaim their homes and their livelihoods if stability is to hold. This generous donation comes at a crucial time and will undoubtedly help hundred of thousands victims of civil unrest to cope with food shortages."
In Liberia, the civil war killed 200,000 people, displaced at least 1.5 million people, and destroyed the country's agriculture and trade. WFP studies and surveys in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF and the government show that about 35 percent of the Liberian people are undernourished.
Nearly a year after Liberia took its first shaky steps toward peace, the country's condition is alarmingly fragile. But today the primary threat is not machine guns but destabilisation from an economy in tatters. In this post-conflict atmosphere - when people are struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives - food aid plays a critical role in fostering stability.
Most Liberians cannot grow food or earn money to buy it. War destroys agriculture and markets, along with the roads and the transportation system. Desperation and displacement are often an inevitable outcome of war but food aid can keep both in check.
"Liberia's humanitarian needs remain immense," Bagirishya said. "But today it is about helping the country rebuild, and it is during this critical period that the international community can help secure the peace."
WFP provides food aid to 320,000 displaced Liberians and 330,000 primary schoolchildren. It also gives food to returned refugees and the malnourished. The agency runs food-for-training and other asset-creation projects for more than 70,000 people. With security slowly being re-established throughout the country, WFP has recently been able to resume its activities in several areas.
Assistance is also critical for the rehabilitation of ex-combatants. To date the UN has disarmed over 71,000 ex-fighters. WFP is providing food aid to more than 60,000 ex-combatants and their 185,000 dependents. And for the more than 5,000 children associated with the fighting forces in Liberia, a single WFP meal helps to keep a child in school.
Of the US$81.6 million WFP has requested for its West Africa programme in 2004, the agency has received US$52.8 million. Despite the EC donation, if more funds are not found soon, WFP will be forced to scale back its operations in Liberia as soon as October 2004. This would be a serious setback because an important number of returnees are expected to arrive next month.
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.
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