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UN food agency seeks $56 million to help war-ravaged West African countries

UN food agency seeks $56 million to help war-ravaged West African countries

Emerging from years of brutality and civil war, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone still require foreign help, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today, appealing for $56 million to support the agency’s programmes in the three West African countries.

“The very survival of hundreds of thousands victims of war in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone depends on international assistance,” WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini said at the official opening of the agency’s new regional bureau in Dakar. “Letting their plight slide to the bottom of international political priorities is a mistake.”

The situation in the region was still very fragile, Ms. Bertini stressed, pointing out that recent armed incursions into Liberia have caused important internal displacement and cross-border refugee movements into Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

In Sierra Leone, the world’s poorest country, peace has emerged after a brutal 10-year civil war, according to WFP. Over 47,000 ex-combatants, including hundreds of child soldiers, have handed in their weapons. As the situation gradually improves, more refugees are expected to be repatriated from Guinea and Liberia, many of them after a decade of asylum.

“If people returning to their war-ravaged villages are not assisted to start a normal life, communities may soon fall back into chaos,” Ms. Bertini said. “So many things have to be built or rebuilt in this region in a short time for the hope of peace to be fulfilled.”

WFP said it would need 105,000 tonnes of food, valued at $56 million, to help the people of the three countries in 2002, and warned that if pledges for humanitarian aid are not received now, operations in the countries will run out of food by June.