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Liberian Rebels Delay Delivery of Aid, says World Food Program - 2003-08-05

The U.N. World Food Program says it has enough food in Monrovia and in the region to feed the hungry, but it can't get to its warehouses, which are under rebel control.

The WFP says it has enough food in Monrovia's port to feed a quarter million people for three months. But WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the port is under the control of rebel fighters, and that has prevented aid workers from distributing the food to the hungry.

"We are putting a lot of hope in the arrival of the peacekeeping forces so that they will restore security and we can bring and we can have access to our food and distribute the food," she said. "Food is not a problem. We have food inside the country. We have food in Sierra Leone. We have food in Cote d'Ivoire that can be sent by truck very quickly into the country. What we need is security, is no fighting."

The World Food Program last distributed food to 100,000 people in Monrovia two weeks ago. This was just before the rebel forces intensified their attacks on the city.

Ms. Berthiaume says the situation has become so desperate that, over the last three days, the agency has airlifted 11 tons of high energy biscuits from Sierra Leone into Monrovia.

"It is a very risky thing, but we have no choice," she said. "And we are distributing those high energy biscuits to the most vulnerable. It is a temporary measure. It is not enough. And so, this is why we have and we are going to pre-position a boat very close to the port. It can get in very quickly with international staff, communications, high energy biscuits - everything to help and increase or help and respond very quickly to the needs."

Ms. Berthiaume says hundreds of thousands of people outside Monrovia also are in need of emergency food. She says an estimated one million people are believed to have been displaced by Liberia's civil war.