17 September 2003 The United Nations has sent food to tens of thousands of people in the rebel-held Liberian city of Buchanan for the first time since heavy fighting erupted between the government and rebels earlier this year, but hundreds of thousands more in the West African country have received no humanitarian aid for months.
A convoy of food trucks arrived last night in Buchanan, a port city 100 kilometres southeast of the capital Monrovia, following the deployment just outside the city of troops from the West African peacekeeping force ECOMIL, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced today.
Distribution of cereals, pulses and vegetable oil is due to start today to some 32,000 people in the city, which had been cut off for months by fighting round Monrovia.
“This is an encouraging start, but security remains a huge problem for most of the country and there are still hundreds of thousands of people out there, who have received no humanitarian aid for months,” WFP Liberia Country Director Justin Bagirishya said. “It is vital that we reach them over the coming weeks.”
WFP is also starting food distributions this week to tens of thousands of displaced Liberians and refugees from Sierra Leone in camps outside Monrovia. Over the past month, the agency has provided food assistance to some 420,000 people, most of them displaced by the fighting and living in temporary shelters in the capital.
“Our capacity was seriously damaged by looting and destruction,” Mr. Bagirishya said. “We are now working round the clock to restore the operational capacity we need to feed half a million people. We are also doing all we can to bring additional stocks into the country and we hope that the peacekeepers can extend their area of control to give us access to people who desperately need our assistance.”
Even before the fighting reached Monrovia, more than half a million people had been displaced across the country by 14 years of civil war. The situation deteriorated rapidly in the first part of this year and by June, humanitarian organizations had access to only about 25 per cent of the country.