NAIROBI - The United Nations World Food Programme today expressed concern that an upsurge in fighting over past weeks in parts of Burundi has prevented it from delivering food assistance to thousands of newly displaced people.
Continued insecurity has forced WFP to cancel last week's planned emergency food aid distributions to 13,000 people who had recently fled their homes in Muhutu Commune - a rural area outside the country's capital, Bujumbura.
"WFP is extremely concerned about the nutritional status of displaced Burundians, as well as the limited ability of the already poor and struggling communities hosting them to cope," said Zlatan Milisic, WFP Country Director in Burundi. "These repeated displacements and continuing insecurity put the lives and livelihoods of everyone in the area at stake."
The last time WFP had access to these people was on 19th February, during a joint needs assessment it conducted with OCHA and UNICEF after news of the displacement. Since then further reports have emerged of residents fleeing other rural communes following more clashes between the government and a rebel group, the Forces Nationales des Liberation (FNL).
Despite improved overall security in most of Burundi, there are regular reports of displacements in western areas of the country, especially Bujumbura Rural Province. Over recent weeks, several thousand people have been displaced in Bujumbura Rural, mainly in Kanyosha, Nyabiraba, Kabezi and Muhuta Communes. Targeted killings, rape of women, armed robbery and looting of households are continuing. In many cases, when people flee the fighting they must leave their homes without taking any food with them. In their absence, their belongings - including clothes, kitchen utensils, and food stocks are often plundered.
"Even a one week delay for people who have no food and no way of getting food is a week too long," said Milisic. "Security permitting, food will be quickly distributed to the displaced people."
Since January 2004, WFP has delivered about 1,150 tons of food aid in Bujumbura Rural province benefiting approximately 113,400 vulnerable people, most of whom were displaced.
WFP regularly assists displaced people in Burundi with food aid, working closely with various NGO partners and local authorities. As soon as a population displacement is reported, security permitting, WFP conducts an assessment to determine how many people are displaced and how much food they have. Based on the findings, WFP decides the amount of relief food required and the duration of assistance.
During 2003, with the help of its implementing partners, WFP provided over 70,000 tons of food to almost 1.5 million people in Burundi. WFP food aid is essential to address the immediate daily food requirements of internally displaced people and refugees, but it also contributes to the protection and rehabilitation from hunger, malnutrition and disease of specific vulnerable groups, such as hospital in-patients, the chronically ill, elderly and street children. Food aid packages are also going towards facilitating the continuing repatriation of Burundian returnees from Tanzania. Additionally, WFP has programmes for HIV/AIDS patients, Food for Work Schemes, and School Feeding.
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.
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