Thursday, 9 June 2011

POVERTY: LIBERIA: Food stocks low for hosts and refugees

DAKAR, 3 June 2011 (IRIN)

 Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN
Liberians and Ivoirians are resorting to eating rice seeds (file photo)

Liberian host families and the Ivoirian refugees staying with them are resorting to eating rice seeds intended for this year’s crop as food stocks dwindle in eastern Liberia, according to aid agencies.
Some 182,000 refugees who fled the violence in Côte d’Ivoire, are registered in Liberia, 90 percent of them staying with host families, rather than in refugee camps, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Liberians and Ivoirians are also having to resort to buying imported rice - a coping mechanism usually exhibited far later in the lean season, according to a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessment.
Rice prices are 20-25 percent higher than in April 2010, according to the US Agency for International Development’s FEWSNET, further straining budgets in this chronically food-insecure region.
In the first few months of the refugee influx, food distributions were “patchy or nonexistent”, Susan Sandars, Oxfam’s communications and advocacy officer in Liberia, told IRIN; and now, “considerable gaps in the response remain,” she said.
Supply chain problems early on led to cereal shortages, meaning the World Food Programme (WFP) had to lower ration size per family, its emergency coordinator, Jerry Bailey, told IRIN.
Aid agencies have not come up with effective ways to deliver to refugees who are so spread out - sheltering across an estimated 90 villages, said Oxfam’s food security and livelihoods adviser, Nanthilde Kamara.

Poor roads, broken bridges, and few available trucks on the commercial market continue to pose problems, said WFP’s Bailey, but response has improved. WFP has bought 10 additional trucks that can navigate difficult terrain, and is making emergency repairs to strategic roads. The organization is also setting up mobile storage units to try to ease distributions.
WFP is distributing regular seed-protection rations to 15,000 Liberians to prevent them from eating their rice seeds, and is delivering general food rations to 100,000 people in Nimba, Maryland and Grand Geddeh counties. Cereal stocks are up - to 2,000 tons - though some say this will not last beyond one month or so.
The government, alongside a number of agencies, including FAO and Oxfam, is distributing seeds and tools to thousands of host families so they can boost their harvest in three months time; Oxfam is also figuring out how best to distribute cash.
Refugees and hosts will need support for a long time to come, estimate aid agencies, as many Ivoirians are still too scared to return home for fear of attacks due to their ethnicity or perceived political affiliation. Many thousands could still be in-country in 2012, according to Bailey.
Given this, they need to shift their responses so they are more appropriate to the context - increasing the number of distribution teams, and setting up more food distribution points in host communities, said Oxfam’s Kamara.

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