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WFP Airlifts Life-Saving Food to Thousands in Ivory Coast

  • Lisa Schlein

Market vendors display their meager stock of available goods at a street market in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, April 9, 2011

Market vendors display their meager stock of available goods at a street market in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, April 9, 2011

The World Food Program says it is airlifting life-saving food aid to tens of thousands of internally displaced people in Ivory Coast and Ivorian refugees in neighboring Liberia. The U.N. agency is also airlifting non-food items, such as telecommunications equipment and medicines supplied by other aid agencies.

WFP says airlifts are very costly. But, given the critical humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast, it is urgent that the food and other relief supplies be brought in as quickly as possible.

The U.N. agency says once the emergency has lessened and the security situation improves, it will bring in larger quantities of food by ship and by road.

Spokeswoman Emilia Casella says food this week is being airlifted from Niger and Mali into the town of Man, in western Ivory Coast. She says two rotations on Tuesday will deliver 30 metric tons of food and another 15 metric tons of food probably will be airlifted on Wednesday.

"We are particularly concerned and hopeful now that some people may be able to return and begin the planting," Casella said. "The planting season is beginning now and it really is vital that farmers can get to their land -- that they can start to plant. If they are not able to plant their crops now, obviously the concern will be that once we come to the harvest season, there will not be enough food for people."

Other United Nations aid agencies also are moving quickly to provide much needed humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict. This follows the surrender of Ivory Coast's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, to forces backing the country's elected president, Alassane Outtara.

The U.N. Children’s Fund says its most urgent priorities include the restoration of safe water supplies and the resumption of immunization campaigns to prevent disease outbreaks of cholera and measles.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says the agency also aims to provide stronger security, especially in areas where mass killings have taken place. She notes it is particularly important to return children to school.

"Returning children back to school as quickly as possible is critical in helping children regain a sense of normalcy and in supporting their recovery process," Mercado said. "UNICEF is preparing a distribution of school kits for over 600 schools across the country as soon as conditions permit.

Mercado says children who have witnessed mass killings and violence are in urgent need of psychosocial support. She says UNICEF is providing such activities wherever there are camps for the displaced. But, she adds, much more needs to be done.