Access to food in Libya a concern

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New York - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says it has stepped up assistance to Libya, while voicing concern about access to food inside the country, especially in areas heavily affected by the fighting. 

Libya is a food deficit country heavily reliant on imports. To feed a population of over 6.6 million, an estimated 110 000 tons of food monthly are required, of which at least 75 percent is imported. 

"The public food distribution system in Libya is under stress as food stocks in the country are being consumed without replenishment," WFP stated in a statement, adding that there are reports of some food commodities doubling in price. 

"The longer the conflict lasts, the more it becomes likely that the number of those in need of food assistance will increase dramatically." 

WFP has boosted the provision of food inside Libya with distribution in eight different locations in the Beidan area north of Ajdabiya and south of Benghazi in the northeast of the country. 

Its food distributions inside Libya started on 9 March, and the agency has pre-positioned and mobilized more than 16 500 tons of food for the hungry inside the country and in the wider region as part of a $42 million emergency operation designed to provide food assistance to more than one million people in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia over a three-month period. 

The ongoing conflict between pro- and anti-government supporters in Libya uprooted over 400 000 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with the majority of them fleeing to neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. The fighting has made access to those in need more difficult for humanitarian agencies. 

In addition to working with local partners to deliver food to hungry people in Libya, WFP is also providing logistics and telecommunications support to the humanitarian community working there. 

It reported that a convoy of three trucks, carrying food assistance as well as 5 000 blankets and 5 000 sleeping mattresses on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees arrived in Benghazi on 27 March - the first since the implementation of the no-fly zone imposed on Libya by the Security Council two weeks ago. 

The no-fly zone was part of an effort by the council to protect civilians from the fierce military crackdown waged by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in response to the protests that erupted in Libya last month as part of a wider movement calling for reform across North Africa and the Middle East. 

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported that it was working with its partners to buy urgent medical supplies - including equipment for blood transfusions, tents for mobile clinics, and water and sanitation equipment - and transport them to Libya as soon as access is provided. 

The $160 million humanitarian flash appeal for Libya is currently 70 percent funded at $111.8 million, according to OCHA. The office added that the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Rashid Khalikov, has begun a three-day assessment visit to Tunisia to review the humanitarian conditions and interact with government and humanitarian actors. 

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's diplomatic efforts to seek a solution to the crisis in Libya continue. His Special Envoy, Abdel Elah Al-Khatib, has concluded two days of talks in Libya, meeting with the opposition in Benghazi after talks with authorities in Tripoli on Thursday. - BuaNews

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