BAKU The United Nations World Food Programme today said a shortage in funding is forcing it to cut desperately needed food rations to tens of thousands of impoverished Azeris displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict a decade ago.
WFP still needs US$10 million to fund its three-year operation, which started in January 2003 and will cost a total US$21 million.
"Many of the families have no regular income and are still living in old railway wagons and dugouts," said Rahman Chowdhury, WFP Country Director in Azerbaijan. "They live in terrible conditions. These are makeshift homes which have no electricity, no running water and are sizzling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter," he added.
WFP is assisting nearly 140,000 persons in addition to 5,000 school children within the displaced communities.
The current food ration includes wheat flour, pulses, oil, sugar, salt and tea. Due to the lack of funds and donations, WFP is now forced to halve the ration of wheat flour, the most important staple, to only three kilograms per person per month.
"This harsh measure is unavoidable and could have serious implications, especially with winter coming, when food aid rations are most needed. Donors have to act fast, otherwise food stocks will dry up completely by January," said Chowdhury.
Over the past decade, WFP has been pivotal in alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Azeris displaced by the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s. Over 600,000 Azeris fled the territories now occupied by Armenia to other parts of Azerbaijan.
The conflict exacerbated an already poor economic situation in Azerbaijan characterized by an inefficient state sector, high unemployment, increasing inflation and limited access to arable land.
The donors include the United States (US$6.3 million), Japan (US$1 million), Luxembourg (US$119,000), Denmark (US$261,000), Netherlands (US$1 million), Norway (US$162,000), Sweden (US$2 million) and Switzerland (US$148,000).
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.
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