DAKAR The United Nations World Food Programme today urged international donors to reinforce humanitarian support to 1.5 million West Africans as they work to rebuild their countries, still reeling from over a decade of war.
With stability slowly returning to the region, WFP's US$155-million programme - covering Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone for 2005 and 2006- reflects a shift away from emergency food distributions towards food aid to help restore social and economic sectors. Today's stability is fragile, and progress is impossible if people lack basics like food, shelter, and the means to keep their families healthy.
"WFP food aid in this region is now a tool to support education, help rebuild communities and give people the means to safeguard their own welfare," WFP West Africa Regional Director Mustapha Darboe said.
"At the height of conflict, we saved lives with emergency food rations. Now we are working - along with other humanitarian agencies - to restore communities and secure peace. The needs are different but just as urgent because we're talking about the difference between stability and chaos in a region that cannot afford more turmoil," said Darboe.
WFP's appeal comes as hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees and displaced people are beginning to return to their communities.
Over 800,000 Liberians - about a quarter of the population - were displaced by the war. Thanks to a peace process begun in 2003, families can now hope to return to their land and reclaim their lives.
"The sad fact is that many of these families are returning to homes and farms which have been destroyed. With the end of war comes the beginning of a long and difficult recovery; humanitarian support should be there," Darboe said.
WFP's operation in Liberia is already facing serious shortfalls; since June the agency has been forced to reduce rations for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people. The lack of roads is also complicating WFP's food deliveries in the country.
With its new operation for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, WFP will continue to support people still displaced by war, as well as those returning home. These countries are at different stages of recovery and WFP tailors its assistance accordingly.
In its effort to help people gain the skills and means to secure their future, WFP will run programmes like school feeding, adult literacy and training and other asset-creation projects. WFP is currently providing daily school meals to about 257,000 children in the three countries and plans to extend school feeding to 730,000 by 2005.
Pockets of food insecurity remain and will require special attention - particularly in much of the countryside, in camps throughout the region and in returnee areas of Sierra Leone and Guinea. Throughout the region WFP will continue to provide special supplementary feeding to undernourished children and pregnant and nursing women.
WFP has assisted tens of thousands of ex-combatants and their families, with meals at rehabilitation centres and four months' food rations. WFP will continue to help these beneficiaries through food-for-training and agricultural activities. Seeds, tools and food aid offer ex-combatants a way of returning to agriculture and abandoning weapons as a livelihood.
Pending availability of resources, for 2005 WFP plans to assist 310,000 people in Guinea, 942,000 in Liberia and 206,000 in Sierra Leone.
Throughout 2004 WFP provided food aid to about 900,000 people in the three countries, where civil war - 10 years in Sierra Leone and 14 in Liberia - shattered social and economic infrastructures and agricultural production.
The recent conflict in Côte d'Ivoire renewed concern that ex-combatants in Liberia would move across the border as guns for hire. Such risks will persist, unless assistance is provided for youths to establish viable civilian livelihoods.
In Guinea WFP will provide food aid to ex-combatants choosing to remain there as well as the communities where they settle.
With the help of broad international support Sierra Leone has made considerable progress towards peace since 1999. WFP will continue to support the government's recovery and reintegration activities with school feeding, food-for-work and food-for-training.
"Unfortunately for this region, stability tends to mean fewer headlines," Darboe said. "We urge the international community not to ignore the still considerable needs here. The humanitarian investment in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has been enormous. To let up now, just when peace is beginning to take hold, would be to throw out that investment and give up on the people."
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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