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WFP survey shows food insecurity threatens rural and displaced Azerbaijanis


BAKU - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) gave a warning today that 400,000 to 600,000 rural Azerbaijanis face food insecurity and that nearly 300,000 of the one million Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh are likely to continue to rely on food aid for the foreseeable future.

The warning comes in WFP's Food Security and Nutrition Report - the first of its kind in Azerbaijan - covering around 3,500 households in six of the country's ten economic zones, including the mountainous regions of Lankaran Astara in the south and Ganja Gazakh in the west, both of which border Nagorno Karabakh.

Since leaving Nagorno Karabakh 12 years ago, many displaced Azerbaijanis still live in sub-standard conditions and have severely limited assets. Only 40 percent of the households covered by the survey have access to agricultural land and in all instances most of the produce grown was for family subsistence.

An overwhelming majority are heavily dependent on the government's monthly allowance of US$6 and nearly 90 percent purchase food on credit or borrowed money. Despite receiving food aid, the bulk of additional expenditures are on food or medical care and more than half of the families have at least one member suffering from a chronic illness, the report said.

"The findings suggest that the displaced Azerbaijanis rely heavily on external food assistance from the government and WFP and a discontinuation is likely to have a serious negative impact on their food consumption levels. This in turn would affect their health and nutritional well being, especially for women and children," said Amir Abdulla, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

"In the absence of food assistance, two thirds of this displaced population would become food insecure very quickly," he added.

The survey results for the rural households also suggest that about 400,000-600,000 living mostly in the mountainous regions are food insecure. With limited employment opportunities, these households are heavily dependent on state benefits and borrowing.

The survey also found that children living in these rural area were likely to be born malnourished, with about one in five described as being ‘smaller than normal' or ‘very small' at birth. More than 30 percent of the rural children under the age of five were stunted, ranging from about 25 percent in the central region of Orta Kur to 40 percent in Daglig Shirvan, where also 9 percent of the women of reproductive age were malnourished.

Micronutrient deficiencies are also problematic in rural areas with 25 percent of the households reporting goitre problems among family members and only two-thirds of the sample households adequately using iodized salt.

Typically, food insecure households are more likely to consume only staple foods such as bread, potatoes and oil, with limited dietary diversity. "It's critical for these children to have access to better foods otherwise malnutrition could affect a whole generation," said Rahman Chowdhury, WFP Country Director in Azerbaijan.

WFP's operations in Azerbaijan are currently facing a shortfall of about US$4 million, out of an appeal for US$21 million, for its three-year humanitarian operation, which started in January 2003. For over a decade, the organization has been assisting people displaced by the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, when Azerbajanis fled the region now occupied by Armenia to other parts of Azerbaijan.

Donors include the United States (US$6.9 million), Japan (US$1.8 million), Luxembourg (US$118,765), Canada (US$9,000) and multilateral funding (Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark--US$5.7 million).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.

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Jennifer Parmelee,
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