WFP has warned that due to a nearly 16 percent shortfall in resources, food assistance to 130,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could come to a complete halt in just three weeks time.
“Unless we can get enough resources right now, we will have no choice but to stop food assistance schemes at the beginning on November.
"For this to happen just before the onset of the harsh winter and during the holy month of Ramadan would be a severe blow to the displaced population, who are predominantly Muslim. In fact, it would be disastrous,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
"Desperately needed relief"
He expressed the hope that the international community would step in with funding for what he described as “desperately needed relief food aid” and added that further assistance from the Azerbaijan government would be most welcome.
WFP is facing a shortfall of US$4 million for its current operation which is scheduled to end in mid-2006. Earlier this year, there was a break in food assistance due to a shortfall of resources. However a timely response from the Azerbaijan government eased the situation and food assistance was restored.
A Food Security and Nutrition Assessment released by WFP Azerbaijan in March this year revealed that the displaced Azerbaijanis rely heavily on food assistance from the UN food aid agency.
“Seventy percent of WFP’s beneficiaries are women and children and they are extremely food insecure. Any discontinuation of food assistance will seriously affect their health and nutritional well being,” underlined Rahman Chowdhury, WFP Country Director in Azerbaijan.
Displaced by conflict
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 Azerbaijan.
They are now spread across western, central and eastern parts of the country with extremely limited opportunities for employment.
If the situation fails to improve, WFP’s school feeding programme, which covers 5,300 primary schoolchildren, will also come to a halt. Children regularly attending school receive a basket of take-home commodities.
“School enrolment and attendance has registered a marked improvement since the launch of the programme. The nutrition of these children has improved considerably in recent months. But all that could be lost if we do not continue this programme,” said Chowdhury.