Liberia

WFP cautions on food insecurity and vulnerability in Lofa, Liberia's agricultural backbone

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Monrovia -- After assessing food diversity, accessibility and expenditure patterns in Lofa county, WFP reports an uncertain food security situation in the County. The new WFP survey reveals that less than 20% of the population has adequate food consumption. More than one of seven households surveyed have unsatisfactory consumption pattern characterized by lack of food diversity, low frequency of daily food intake, low household asset holdings, and lack of reliable income sources. Over 60% of their expenditures go towards food items -- at the expense of other basic needs. There is high dependency on food purchases and other relief sources with limited own production reported by the communities.
The report recommends humanitarian support in the provision of shelter to encourage the resettlement process, targeting poorer households; rehabilitation of basic infrastructures such as schools and skills training facilities; health service provision especially in Salayea where no health facility currently exists; and improvement in water and sanitation situation including construction of latrines and water pumps. Other recommendations include initiation of income generating activities especially those involving women and the youth; provision of agricultural tools and equipment; intensification of health and nutrition education mainly focusing on primary health care and child feeding practices and concerted HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in the county.

"Although communities are resettling in their villages, seeds and farm tools are not readily available and they do not have the capacity to purchase the necessary tools. Thus, they will continue to rely on external support to undertake farming activities," says acting WFP Liberia Country Director Abdirahman Meygag. "Lofa County is expected to receive nearly 200,000 returnees, IDPs, and ex-combatants. However, the County experienced probably the severest impact of the long and protracted war in Liberia. The war left widespread devastation and destruction of property and inflicted gross human rights abuses in Lofa."

The survey confirms massive destruction of the basic social services such as education facilities, health institutions, shelters, and farms. The resumption of education is still relatively low. There is acute shortage of shelter while health service provision is grossly inadequate. Communities heavily rely on sourcing food from neighboring countries. Their capacity to construct schools, health facilities, and be involved in constructive farming endeavors are constrained by poverty.

Nutrition results from 950 children surveyed from 648 households indicate a 2.6% global and 0.4% severe acute malnutrition rates. Stunting levels is considered high at approximately 24% while underweight is 11%. Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) is 1.35 deaths per 10,000 per day while Under-Five Mortality Rate (U5MR) is 2.41 deaths per 10,000 per day. Both CMR and U5MR are slightly elevated and require caution. Main causes of deaths among under-five year old children are malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections. Inadequate provision of health care services, unsafe water and poor child feeding practices remain major issues of concern. A significant 30% of the children were introduced to foods other than breast milk before the recommended time of 4-6 months while less than one of every five children continued to breastfeed beyond the first year of their life.

Assessment of HIV/AIDS awareness reveals appalling statistics characterized by high levels of ignorance about the pandemic, stigmatization, and discrimination. Less than 10% of the assessed household has appropriate knowledge on the spread, prevention and care for the pandemic.

WFP has already begun its support to Lofa County. First, it has established a sub-office in the county for close monitoring and enhanced support to the vulnerable populations. In March 2005, WFP programme in Voinjama is reaching 1,500 beneficiaries through its resettlement support to IDPs and refugees, more than 3,000 beneficiaries through its food support for local initiatives such as community infrastructure and agricultural support, as well as over 10,000 children through its emergency school feeding programme.

Prior to the survey, limited information existed on the food security and nutrition situation in Lofa County as the security situation prevented full humanitarian operations in 2003 and 2004. Due to massive destruction that resulted from the war, pre-war data could not provide guidance. Extremely poor infrastructural network, especially the extremely poor conditions of roads, compounded the problem.

"The survey is providing baseline data on the key food security and nutrition indicators and possible causes of vulnerability in the County. The information is being shared for proper planning and targeting of aid interventions and for adequate impact assessment in the future," states Meygag.

WFP worked closely with stakeholders and partners to conduct the food security and nutrition survey in Lofa County, Liberia, to help the humanitarian community plan their interventions and more easily start assistance to the county. Various partners in food security and nutrition sectors are involved including the Ministries of Health and Social Works and Planning, UNICEF, IMC, and ACF. Data analysis and report of the survey can be obtained from the Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) website (www.humanitarianinfo.org/liberia).

WFP is strengthening its Vulnerability Analysis & Mapping (VAM) capabilities to improve information database for better planning and targeting of food aid interventions. WFP and its partners recently completed a Food Security and Nutrition Survey in Bomi County. Other WFP priorities include surveys in displaced camps and Grand Gedeh County.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future. Visit our website: www.wfp.org

For more information please contact:
Durudee Sirichanya, WFP/Monrovia, email: durudee.sirichanya@wfp.org, Tel: 23106-524978