FREETOWN - The United Nations World Food Programme today called on the international community to bolster support for some one million people in West Africa who are struggling to overcome the devastating effects of war.
"For the situation to remain stable in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the world must commit to helping people reconstruct a normal life," said Jean Jacques Graisse, WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director, who is in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown.
Graisse was speaking at an unprecedented international conference at which representatives of African nations, UN agencies, NGOs and the donor community have been reviewing humanitarian achievements and needs in the region. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sponsored the conference.
"This is a troubled region, but as conference participants have noted on their visits to humanitarian projects, the steps towards peace are both impressive and inspiring. But unless the most basic needs of food, shelter and income are met, stability cannot take root," Graisse said.
During 2004, WFP has been assisting some 900,000 men, women and children in all three countries where social and economic infrastructures as well as agricultural production have been ravaged by war.
WFP is deeply concerned about the current unrest in Côte d'Ivoire and its potential regional impact. Already thousands of Ivorians have fled into Liberia, placing considerable pressure on WFP's meagre resources and threatening gains made in a country newly liberated from war.
"Finally, the peoples of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone 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 hunger and poverty," Graisse said. "Their plight must not slip off the international agenda."
In January, WFP will launch a two-year, US$155-million programme for the sub-region of four countries to continue assistance to more than one million displaced people. It will also provide special food rations for malnourished children and pregnant and nursing women.
To date, donors have contributed US$61.3 million towards WFP's 2004 US$81.6 million West Africa coastal operation.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are at different stages in their recovery and WFP is tailoring its interventions accordingly - shifting away from emergency food distributions to war victims and towards food aid to strengthen social and economic infrastructures.
WFP plans to provide school meals to about 730,000 children and implement vocational training, agricultural assistance and other asset-creation projects in the three countries.
Hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees and displaced Liberians now beginning to return home will also be assisted by WFP as part of a repatriation programme launched by the United Nations earlier this month.
In Guinea, WFP will support income-generating projects to help refugees and former combatants as well as local populations where they settle.
Sierra Leone is making momentous strides toward stability and reconstruction, nearly three years after the first post-war presidential elections. Over half a million former refugees and displaced people have resettled in their home communities. National rice production is at 80 percent of pre-war levels. Thousands of children who once carried guns and machetes now carry schoolbooks.
"The humanitarian needs in these countries are immense," Graisse said. "With all the crises in the world today, it is easy to overlook Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where headline-grabbing conflict has ended. But this would be exactly the wrong time to neglect this sub-region. It is up to the world community to secure the peace."
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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