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WFP Helps Nomads in Djibouti Recover From Drought

The World Food Program says it is gradually shifting from emergency assistance to Food for Work projects to help thousands of nomadic herders in Djibouti recover from years of recurrent drought. WFP is running these programs jointly with other U.N. agencies and the country's Ministry of Agriculture. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Nomads in northwestern Djibouti have been hit hard by five consecutive years of drought. The lack of rainfall has devastated pasturelands on which rural herdsmen traditionally rely.

The World Food Program says 20 percent of the population was short of food when stocks from the last harvest in September ran out. Furthermore, they say, many pastoralists lost all their animals.

WFP spokesman, Simon Pluess, says his agency wants to wean the herders away from emergency assistance by introducing Work for Food programs aimed at long-term recovery.

"What we are trying to do together with the Ministry of Agriculture and UNICEF is, for example to dig wells so that despite drought, these herders will be able to irrigate their fields," he noted. "And, together with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, we will try and promote vegetable gardens."

In this way, Pluess says, the United Nations hopes to lessen the suffering of these vulnerable people and improve their nutritional status. He says some 5,600 people will participate in the Food for Work programs. They will receive enough rations to feed themselves and their families. This means a total of 28,000 people will benefit from the food assistance.

Pluess says Djibouti is less fortunate than its neighbors. He says agriculture is very limited because of inadequate rainfall and high temperatures. Agriculture only accounts for three percent of Djibouti's gross domestic product.

Pluess says the country imports more than 80 percent of its cereal requirements. He says it is important to find solutions to mitigate the impact of drought and the food shortages that result.

"Without assistance, many people may be forced to move to Djibouti city where they lose their pastoralist lifestyle," he added. "What will happen is they will only add to slums on the outskirts of the capital. We would like these people to stay in the rural areas. I think they can live a life of much more dignity than in the slums in the city. And by improving water access and gardens, I think we can help them."

The 2007-2008 forecast looks better for rainfall. But, if it fails, Pluess tells VOA the World Food Program will have food stocks on hand to provide emergency relief for the people of Djibouti.