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Suffering in the forest

When Tarek El Guindi, WFP's then country director in Liberia first saw the condition of thousands of people stranded in the lush West African forest, he and the members of his team began to weep.

"It was a green hell," El Guindi said of the verdant pockets that were home to over 35,000 Liberians who had fled the brutal fighting of the civil war."I'd never seen such a massive number of hungry people," El Guindi said later. "The children had swollen bellies, their eyes were inflamed, their skin cracked and in some cases they were badly maimed."The time was September 1996. In theory the civil war was over, but many people were still too frightened to emerge from the forest. El Guindi and his WFP team provided the first real food these people had eaten in months. These days WFP is still helping Liberians rebuild their shattered society. Frail infants, mothers, unpaid teachers and the elderly--all depend on rations they receive from WFP.

In 1997, WFP helped feed a total of 200,000 Liberians.

Averting famine in southern Africa

When one of this century's worst droughts threatened 20 million people in southern Africa with famine, WFP coordinated an unprecedented regional operation that delivered 11 million metric tons of food at a cost of over $4 billion.

WFP went into action in January 1992 as reports of mounting food shortages, dwindling water reserves and dying cattle substantiated its early warnings that the drought could cause widespread hunger and famine.Only a region-wide operation could meet the challenge. WFP set up a Logistics Advisory Center to coordinate the use of port and rail facilities in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as to share information about potential bottlenecks. A major humanitarian disaster was averted.

In October 1997, WFP once again created a task force, this time on a global basis, to assess information on the El Nino weather phenomenon and to coordinate emergency food relief.

A chance to spread her wings

"I'm not just anyone," said Banesa. "People in the village seek me out." But it was not always that way. Over the past eight years her life in Bangladesh has been transformed. Thanks to a project to which WFP contributes food, she has left the borderlines of starvation and begun a journey of self-discovery. She

has also become self-reliant and is no longer dependent on the meager amounts she earned as a casual laborer. At the time, the money was insufficient to feed her three children and sick husband.Banesa's opportunity came when she enrolled in a two-year course in poultry farming. She also took classes in hygiene, nutrition and literacy. She was able to do this and still feed her family thanks to food provided by WFP. Afterwards, Banesa was able to break through the cycle of poverty. Eventually she opened a bank account and now owns a plot of land and three little houses. She plans to open a small shop for her husband to run. "Because I was so poor, I didn't realize the meaning of school," Banesa says, adding that now things have changed. I am someone who can help others".

Banesa is just one of the over one million people WFP is assisting in Bangladesh.

WFP in brief

Created in 1963, the World Food Programme:

World Food Programme (WFP)
Via Cristoforo Colombo 426
00145 Rome
Tel.: (39-6) 552-2821

© United Nations 1998 / Information Technology Section, DPI