Liberia: UNMIL Humanitarian Situation Report No. 91


- Feature on nutrition support in Liberia

- UNMIL HCS Arranges for Transportation of Agriculture Inputs

- Poor Roads Exclude Communities in Gbarpolu from Humanitarian Assistance

- Seven Hundred Former Refugees Return Home

Feature: Nutrition Support in Liberia

Poor nutrition as a consequence of many factors affects many Liberians, especially in rural Liberia. These factors include the fourteen years of civil conflict that damaged the country's health and social infrastructure, inadequate access to proper medical care, low food availability, high unemployment, and high morbidity, among other factors.

Prior to the start of the civil war in December 1989, various estimates put the number of Liberians suffering from acute malnutrition at less than two percent. UNICEF in its State of the World's Children 2007 estimated that between 1996 and 2005, eight percent of children under five were severely underweight, six percent suffered moderate to severe wasting, and 39 percent had stunted growth. The most recent figures on the nutritional status of people surveyed in the 2006 Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey (CFSNS) in all 15 counties of Liberia indicate that countrywide 6.9 percent of children aged 6-59 months were malnourished, and 1.7 percent were acutely malnourished. The Survey also found that chronic malnutrition (stunting) was 39.2 percent, 26.9 percent of children were underweight, and that low birth weight was associated with the nutritional status of women. The on-going Liberia Demographic and Health Survey will also provide useful information on nutrition and health when completed later this year.

In Liberia, access to food is a key contributing factor to improving the nutritional status of people. Liberia is a food-deficit country where subsistence agriculture and food aid are the main sources of food and nutrition for many rural residents. Agricultural productivity is low, and needs significant investment to move food production beyond the subsistence level. Currently, FAO estimates that there is a shortfall of 1,800 MT of seed rice for the current farming season.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) run the largest nutritional support programmes in the country. WFP nutrition support programmes help to improve the nutritional and health status of over 33,300 children, mothers, and other vulnerable people. The agency runs 161 projects at 129 health centers, orphanages, and other facilities that provide over 300 metric tons of food monthly to mothers and children, critically ill persons (suffering from TB, leprosy, HIV/AIDS, etc.), orphans, prison inmates, elderly, handicapped, etc. The CRS nutrition programme distributes on a monthly basis over 123 MT of assorted food 8,367 beneficiaries in 46 centers in Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Rivercess Counties. TB patients, severely handicapped, malnourished mothers and children, people afflicted with leprosy, the elderly and orphans are among the beneficiaries of the CRS nutrition programme.

UNICEF supports nutrition and health programmes in collaboration with its partners countrywide. Over ten international and local NGOs also run nutrition programmes in many parts of the country.

Despite the success in increasing access to nutrition support programmes in the country, the CFSNS estimated that in 2006 countrywide coverage by therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes was 78 and 46 percent, respectively. The Nutrition Cluster - a grouping of agencies engaged in nutrition support programmes - highlighted the constraints in addressing nutritional needs in the country in its 2007 response plan. The limited capacity of Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, lack of qualified human resources in-country, lack of a country-wide nutritional surveillance system, inaccessibility owing to poor road condition, funding shortfalls, and imminent drawdown of international NGOs are identified by the Cluster as limiting factors.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and UNICEF jointly coordinate activities of the Nutrition Cluster. Cluster membership includes local and international NGOs, UN agencies, and the Government of Liberia. The Cluster set out its objectives in 2007 to include provision of special nutritional services (therapeutic, supplementary feeding, etc.) and the development of a national nutrition surveillance system. The Cluster will help develop and implement a national nutritional plan of action and will train health and community workers in communities with high rates of malnutrition. Vitamin A, iron supplementation and de-worming tablets would be provided to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children. These objectives and the relevant projects are included in the 2007 Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Liberia.

1. Return & Resettlement

Seven Hundred Former Refugees Return Home

During the week, seven hundred Liberian refugees from Guinea and Sierra Leone returned to Liberia onboard UNHCR-facilitated land convoys. On 6 February 2007, a convoy of 375 returnees from N'zerekore, Guinea arrived in Bong County. The returnees, comprising 114 families, were destined for Bong County and other locations. On 7 February, UNHCR and LRRRC received a convoy of 174 returnees from Sierra Leone via Bo Waterside in Grand Cape Mount County. The returnees comprised 67 family heads who had sought refuge in refugee camps in Sierra Leone. On 8 February, UNHCR and partners also facilitated the return of 151 Liberian refugees from Guinea.

2. Health

Northwest Medical Teams Opens Two Clinics in Cape Mount

An international NGO, Northwest Medical Team (NWMT) opened two clinics in Tewor District, Grand Cape Mount County on 9 February. The clinics will serve communities that have high rates of return of refugees and IDPs. NWMT plans to open another clinic in Garwular District in the same county. The agency also announced that it would change its name to Medical Teams International on 20 February.

3. Food Security And Livelihoods

HCS Arranges for Transportation of Agriculture Inputs

Upon a request from the Ministry of Agriculture in Grand Gedeh County, the Humanitarian Coordination Section on 7 February arranged with the UNMIL Ethiopian military contingent to transport agriculture tools for distribution to farmers in Tchien and Gbarzon districts. The tools would be transported on 13 and 14 February. The Ministry informed HCS that the tools were stored in a warehouse for about seven months, and had not been distributed to farmers due to lack of transportation.

Update on Agricultural Activities in Grand Gedeh County

The international NGO, German Agro Action is developing 22 hectares of virgin swampland and rehabilitating 34 hectares of swampland both for rice cultivation in Zwedru, Janzon, Ziah, and Geebo. It also signed an MoU with three local organizations to rehabilitate nine fishponds with a combined area of 3,600 square meters. A local NGO, United Family for Reconstruction, is developing two hectares of lowland for rice cultivation at Kudah Bye Pass. The FAO poultry farm for ex-combatants has started generating income for the beneficiaries. The 5000-bird farm produces 500 eggs daily, and expects to produce 5,000 daily in April.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture regional representative resident in Grand Gedeh County, lack of transportation and inadequate human resources are limiting the Ministry's capacity to coordinate and monitor agriculture activities and conduct extension work in Rivercess, Sinoe and Grand Gedeh Counties.

4. Shelter & Infrastructure

Poor Roads Exclude Communities in Gbarpolu from Humanitarian Assistance

Several communities in Bokomu, Kongba and Belle Districts in Gbarpolu County are still inaccessible by road and are cut off from humanitarian assistance. For example, an NRC/DFID shelter project cannot be extended to communities in Bokomu District due to poor road condition. The Humanitarian Coordination Section is following up with German Agro Action and UNDP to assist in improving road condition in these communities.

5. Protection

Mercy Corps Conducts Peacebuilding Training in Grand Bassa

As part of its USAID-funded Community Peace-building and Development program, Mercy Corps and the Academy for Educational Development completed three weeks of activities in training and assessment in conflict management in Grand Bassa County. Conflict management assessments were conducted in several communities, and a five-day workshop for Training of Trainers in Peacebuilding was held with the National Adult Education Association of Liberia (NAEAL).