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WFP Warns Liberians Face Starvation Without Food Aid  - 2004-09-18

The United Nations World Food Program warns thousands of Liberians could face starvation, if international donors do not urgently provide $6.6 million for food relief. A WFP official says the organization has been forced to cut food rations for lack of funds.

The World Food Program says the situation for hundreds of thousands of people in Liberia is critical. WFP Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says the agency is feeding three quarters of a million of Liberia's most vulnerable people. They include women, children, displaced people, refugees and people suffering from HIV-AIDS. She says these people are totally dependent upon international food aid for their survival.

"The situation is so bad that, this month, we have to cut by 36 percent the food rations of the displaced people and returnees, because of lack of contributions from donor countries," she explained. "And, if the situation does not improve, we will have to make more cuts in October and December. And, those are really heart breaking decisions."

Ms. Berthiaume says, thanks to a contribution by the European Union, WFP has the money to feed its beneficiaries in the month of November, but the outlook for December is very bleak.

She says, ironically, aid agencies are suffering from a shortage of money, because the peace process is going well.

While war was raging in Liberia and the country was the focus of media attention, she says, donors contributed generously. However, the international community has lost interest in Liberia since that country's former president, Charles Taylor, went into exile in Nigeria, and Liberia disappeared from the TV screens.

To date, the United Nations has received less than half of the $520 million governments pledged in aid for Liberia in February. Ms. Berthiaume says WFP urgently needs more than $6.5 million to feed three quarters of a million people until the end of the year. She warns Liberia's fledgling peace process will be at risk if people do not get enough to eat.

"We know that, if we do not distribute enough food, there will be riots and instability and insecurity in the camps for displaced people," she said. "Lack of food is always a factor of insecurity. People that do not have enough to eat and that do not have enough food for the family, are people that might resort to extremes to get what they need."

The WFP spokeswoman says this is a particularly worrying time. She says the United Nations is going to start repatriating thousands of Liberian refugees from neighboring countries on October 1. Many of these people fled into exile over a decade ago and are eager to return. But, she notes they will quickly become disillusioned if there is nothing for them to eat. And, this, she warns could have a damaging impact on the peace process.