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WFP cuts food rations for second time as funds run out

[Liberia] WFP maize meal sacks in warehouse Monrovia Freeport.
WFP food ready for distribution (IRIN)

Dwindling food stocks and a shortfall in donor funding have forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to cut rations for more than 700,000 Liberians for the second time in two months, a senior WFP official said on Monday.

WFP is now distributing just 70 percent of the normal food ration and further cuts are likely unless donors come up with more cash quickly, Maarit Hirvonen, the acting head of WFP in Liberia told IRIN.

"We started the reduction of the calories last month from 2,100 to 1,700. And this month it was cut down to 1,500 per person," Hirvonen said.

"This serious problem of resources can be attributed to the... competing interests and priorities like the issues in Darfur, Sudan," she added.

Nearly a quarter of Liberia's three million population receives food aid following 14 years of civil war. And many more mouths will have to be fed once the UN refugee agency UNHCR starts to repatriate Liberian refugees from neighbouring countries in October.

But since the Liberian conflict ended 12 months ago and UN peacekeeping forces brought improved security to the interior, the country has dropped off the donors' radar screen.

Almost 740,000 people, including demobilised ex-fighters, newly-returned refugees, internally displaced people (IDP) and school children, have been affected by the cut in monthly rations.

Hirvonen warned that further cuts could follow if donors failed to stump up US$12 million rapidly to buy a further 20,000 tonnes of food to see Liberia through to the end of this year.

"To avoid even deeper cuts in food rations, even with immediate contributions, we will need to work rapidly and turn donations into food supplies quickly," she said.

"Some European Union countries have pledged seven million euros (US$8 million) for food assistance, but the realisation of such pledges could take several months. We have a shortfall of 20,000 tons of food supply to cope with the growing needs in Liberia," Hirvonen said.

"There are plans underway to deviate a limited food stock from WFP in neighbouring La Cote D'Ivoire. Like pulses, maize meal and vegetable oil to help ease the grave food aid for Liberia," she said. "This could arrive by the end of September."

The planned repatriation of more than 300,000 Liberian refugees spread across West Africa, which is due to start in October would aggravate the food shortages, Hirvonen warned.

"Perhaps, the number of target beneficiaries or returnees could surpass the initial planning figure that the UNHCR is working with and the WFP has to provide food aid to the returnees, but there is a limited food stock," she stressed.

Many Liberians currently living in IDP camps are already complaining of empty bellies and a deterioriation in the food situation over the past in the last four months.

"Things are now difficult in Liberia. The food we are receiving can not even take one person through a week," Ciapha Boakai, a resident at the Perry Town camp on the outskirts of Monrovia told IRIN at the weekend.

"Because of this, our children are now begging camp visitors for money to buy food," she added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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