WFP Executive Director, James Morris, today stressed the need to draw attention to the devastating problems faced by the world’s displaced people, including those in Azerbaijan and now in Lebanon.
This is likely to be the last phase of WFP’s operation in Azerbaijan but we need to leave with the assurance that these people are taken care of.
James Morris, WFP Executive Director
Noting that while international media attention and relief efforts were now focused on the hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Lebanon, people in Azerbaijan who fled their homes years ago for similar reasons are now largely forgotten.
“These are people who had normal lives one day and nothing the next. Their whole world has suddenly been turned upside down and often they have to start all over again,” said Morris.
Since 1994, WFP has been pivotal in assisting hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis displaced by the armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
More than 600,000 Azerbaijanis fled the region to other parts of the country. Most of the displaced live in makeshift housing in remote areas of western Azerbaijan, such as Agjabedi and Imishli regions, where employment possibilities are extremely limited.
“Displacement is a terrifying experience for anyone. When it happens, we have to act quickly and give them our full support until they return home or start a new life somewhere else,” added Morris.
But in Azerbaijan, severe funding shortfalls are limiting what WFP can do. Last September, WFP’s assistance to over 130,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – 70 percent of whom are women and children – was brought to a complete halt.
Shortfalls in January and May forced the humanitarian agency to cut its rations. If there is no more funding for the current two-year operation to provide about 27,000 metric tons of food, WFP will have nothing to distribute after August.
“This is likely to be the last phase of WFP’s operation in Azerbaijan but we need to leave with the assurance that these people are taken care of,” said Morris.
He appealed to the international donor community to continue its support in this critical period of transition.
Under the new operation, valued at US$15.6 million, WFP will provide food aid to the most vulnerable of the displaced population, particularly women and children, in order to maintain their nutritional well being.
A food-for-education component will address declining enrolment rates of primary school children and help stabilize attendance. A food-for-work project will increase employment opportunities for rural households, many of whom are displaced people.
A WFP Food Security and Nutrition Assessment – the first of its kind in Azerbaijan – was released last year and warned that nearly 300,000 of the one million Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflict with Armenia would continue to rely on food aid for the foreseeable future.
Only 40 percent of the households covered by the survey have access to agricultural land and in all instances most of the produce grown is for family subsistence.
“Most of WFP’s beneficiaries are women and children and they are extremely food insecure. Any discontinuation of food assistance at this time will seriously affect their ability to rebuild their lives,” said Rahman Chowdhury, WFP’s Representative for Azerbaijan.