July 30, 2008

Writethru: UN Expands Food Aid for Hungry West Africans

Writethru: UN expands food aid for hungry West Africans

NAIROBI, July 29 (Xinhua) -- The UN World Food Program (WFP) announced Tuesday it is expanding operations in West Africa to feed an additional 1.4 million people who are struggling due to high food prices in Guinea, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

WFP said in a statement issued in Nairobi that over the past 12 months, food costs for its operations in the region have increased by almost 60 percent and overall operational costs are now 30 percent higher. Increased fuel prices have also pushed up transportation costs as many regions in need of assistance are landlocked.

The agency is scaling up food distributions to the hardest-hit areas across the region. In addition, malnourished children, pregnant and nursing women, primary school children and people affected by HIV/AIDS will also benefit from WFP food assistance.

"WFP is taking vital steps to ensure the poorest people in West Africa are not pushed over the edge by the impact of high food prices," Thomas Yanga, WFP's Regional Director for West Africa, adding that WFP's efforts are designed to complement government responses already in place.

WFP added the 1.4 million new beneficiaries to the 3.6 million people it was already planning to assist this year in the six countries, which have been severely impacted by a combination of increased high food and fuel prices, and poor harvests owing to floods and droughts.

This month WFP started distributions to an additional 600,000 people in Guinea's capital, Conakry. It also started food distributions last week in the country's rural areas to help cover the immediate needs of families -- many of whom are surviving on cassava and mangoes -- until the next harvest.

In Mauritania which depends on imports for 70 percent of its food needs, the agency stocked cereal banks in the beginning of the rainy season, which allowed farmers to acquire cereals at a reasonable price and to plant their seeds, rather than resort to eating them.

WFP has also scaled up its distributions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Senegal to reach hundreds of thousands people, including young children and pregnant women.

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