DAKAR The United Nations World Food Programme said today that West Africa needs strong and consistent backing from the international community as the region tackles a range of challenges from drought and locusts to civil strife and destabilisation.
"Support for post-war recovery, education, vocational training and agricultural production go a long way towards helping West Africans build up their own defences against hunger and poverty," said WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director Jean Jacques Graisse, who is in Dakar after visiting Sierra Leone.
While carrying out programmes to help Sahel communities cope with cyclical drought and locust invasions, WFP has maintained a constant focus on the unstable coastal region - Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - all the more worrying since the recent outbreak of violence in Côte d'Ivoire that has caused thousands to flee into Liberia.
"This influx of refugees puts immense pressure on our already strained resources in West Africa," Graisse said. "The road to stability in this volatile region is long and difficult. The international community's commitment to much-needed humanitarian support during the process is indispensable."
WFP is pre-positioning food stocks near the border area where Ivorian refugees have been gathering. This week, WFP airlifted 50 metric tons of emergency food using UN helicopters; the site is inaccessible by truck due to poor roads.
This new emergency comes as WFP is urgently appealing for US$20 million to avoid a rupture to its ongoing operation in Liberia from now through March 2005. Any disruption in food aid support to Liberians would undermine the fragile stability they have been able to attain.
In January, WFP will launch a two-year, US$155 million operation for 1.4 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, continuing its assistance to displaced people, returnees and vulnerable women and children enrolled in supplementary and therapeutic feeding. The new operation reflects WFP's shift towards food aid to support social and economic sectors, with school feeding planned for 730,000 children, aid to ex-combatants and their families and food-for-training and other asset-creation projects.
For the Sahel region, Graisse highlighted three WFP programmes aimed at helping communities to safeguard their food security: support to countries severely affected by locusts, a comprehensive school feeding initiative and assistance to post-conflict recovery in Senegal's Casamance region.
For several months, WFP has worked with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, governments and regional groups to assess agricultural production in the region and potential impact from locusts. WFP also conducted its own food security and vulnerability studies in Mali and Mauritania - the two countries seen as the most threatened.
Despite its magnitude, Graisse announced that the 2004 locust infestation has not provoked a region-wide food crisis but rather pockets of severe food insecurity.
The latest assessments indicate that Mauritania is the hardest hit country, with 100 percent of its agricultural production zone infested. Locusts wiped out not only cereals but also pulses and other vegetables. WFP plans to augment its US$20-million relief operation for Mauritania (for 2005-07) to feed more communities.
Niger and Mali have also suffered severe damage from locusts, but the impact is localised. Late drought compounded the problem. WFP will implement tailored food aid responses to those communities facing acute shortages.
In support of universal education, WFP - in partnership with the governments of nine Sahel countries - is working to expand school feeding to reach more children and make primary schools a cornerstone for comprehensive development goals. WFP aims to reach six million children in the Sahel by 2015, compared to about one million receiving school meals today.
In Senegal's Casamance region a secessionist movement spanning over 20 years has caused substantial population displacement, the destruction of infrastructure and a collapse of the local agriculture-based economy. As Senegal takes strides toward peace and stability in the region, WFP is pleased to be part of a multi-agency effort to help communities move from crisis and turmoil to recovery and rebuilding.
In January WFP will continue its assistance to the Casamance, launching a two-year, US$18.6-million programme to assist 243,500 people in the region.
"Finally the peoples of much of West Africa are living free from the daily all-consuming violence of war. It is up to the international community to match the people's resolve and ensure that they are released from the shackles of hunger and poverty," Graisse said. "Their plight must not slip off the international agenda."
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