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UN agency seeks urgent funds to avert looming food crisis in Chechnya

UN agency seeks urgent funds to avert looming food crisis in Chechnya

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today urgently appealed for funding to avert a potential food crisis in the northern Caucasus, particularly Chechnya, after a severe shortfall in donations forced the agency to drastically scale back its aid distributions despite severely deteriorating conditions in the region.

WFP, which launched a $24 million emergency operation for people of the war-torn republic in January, is facing a 78 per cent shortfall in contributions. The agency is warning that without new donations, it could be forced to suspend food distributions in the northern Caucasus after June.

The shortfall has already taken its toll: in March, WFP was able to feed only 33,000 people -- mostly Chechen women and children who fled to the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia -- compared to 215,000 in February.

"The lack of donor response is extremely worrying because people in Chechnya have so little access to food," said WFP Senior Emergency Coordinator Bhim Udas. "For about 75,000 people in the capital Grozny, or nearly 70 per cent of the city's population, WFP is the only source of food aid. Without us to help them, they will have a very difficult time trying to survive."

The agency noted that those who had left Chechnya because of the conflict would normally be returning at this time of year to plant their land and rebuild their houses, but rumours of further violence -- along with a lack of food and shelter -- are discouraging the displaced from going home.

The humanitarian crisis in this remote, mountainous region of southern Russia, where hostilities broke out anew in September 1999, has been characterized as one of the worst in the world. According to WFP, normal life in Chechnya has all but evaporated as the remaining civilians struggle just to stay alive in the shelled and battered towns and cities.

Preliminary results from a household survey in Grozny conducted in early May indicate that 40 per cent of families live in conditions of extreme poverty, while a WFP report on the city last September found that residents were reduced to surviving "through destructive, illegal and dangerous coping mechanisms" such as looting scrap metal from abandoned factories.