Global Policy Forum

UN: Huge Need for Food Aid in Sierra Leone

Associated Press
August 3, 1999

Geneva -- Up to 1.5 million people urgently need food aid in rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone that were long cut off from outside help, the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for the country said Tuesday.

Initial assessments of rebel-held areas in the north of the country indicated that more than 30 percent of children under 10 were malnourished, Kingsley Amaning told reporters. There were "similar tendencies" among adults.

Eight years of civil war in the West African nation formally ended July 7 when the government and the rebel Revolutionary United Front signed a peace agreement in Togo's capital, Lome. The conflict killed tens of thousands and maimed many more. The United Nations obtained guarantees of access to areas held by the RUF and ex-army soldiers on the rebel side.

"We have partially succeeded in fielding a couple of missions" to rebel-held areas, Amaning said. They indicated a "general breakdown of health structures," as well as "dire need for food assistance." In government-held areas, more than 200,000 displaced people need continual food aid. In rebel-held zones, "we feel that the problem is much larger" and are "considering assistance to over a million or a million and a half people," Amaning said.

"We are making slow progress," he added. "The problems we have to encounter are many and we discover a lot more as we go along."

A humanitarian implementation committee, with both government and rebel representatives, so far hasn't met because neither side wanted to meet in territory controlled by the other, he said. But both sides now have committed themselves to meet by next week.

Aid workers face transport problems with shattered roads and bridges, as well as threats from a few armed rebel groups demanding to be fed, Amaning said. "There have not been yet any solid structures which would make it possible for the armed groups to disarm or for them to demobilize," but atrocities against civilians appear to have ended since the peace agreement, he noted.

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