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Renewed Fighting Cripples WFP Efforts in Burundi - 2003-01-31

The United Nations World Food Program says it has not been able to reach an estimated 50,000 people in Burundi, who have fled renewed fighting in the central part of the country, Gitega and Ruyigi.

World Food Program Spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume says it is too dangerous for aid workers to go to the area to assess the situation and begin providing food.

Ms. Berthiaume says the WFP is pre-positioning one week's worth of food near the conflict area. She says aid workers want to be able to move quickly to help the many hungry people as soon as the area become accessible.

"Our big concern is that we do not have enough food. Even before this new crisis, we knew that without new contributions, we would be out of cereal and beans by March," she said. "So, can you imagine, now that we have this new caseload of people that are displaced and are going into bad areas, areas that are already affected by drought. So, that means that the needs are going to be higher than we expected."

In December, before the current crisis, the World Food Program launched an appeal for $19 million to feed 1.2 million people in Burundi. Ms. Berthiaume says the response from donor countries has been poor.

She says the newly displaced people are in areas which have been severely hit by drought. She says their nutritional status is very worrying, with malnutrition levels rising among the children.

Ms. Berthiaume says food reserves from the last harvest have been depleted and it will be several months before the next harvest. She says the World Food Program will be hard pressed to provide enough food assistance to help these people get through the next few months.