UN launches aid operation in Liberia as fighting continues


The United Nations food aid agency has launched an emergency operation to fly food aid into the Liberian capital Monrovia, where hundreds of thousands of people desperately need assistance after two weeks of fighting.

The first consignment of half a tonne of high energy biscuits arrived in the city yesterday from Sierra Leone - enough to provide an emergency ration to some 4,000 people, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said today.

Another 11-1/2 tonnes will be flown in over the next few days, the Rome-based agency said in a statement.

"This is the first time WFP has been able to move food into Monrovia since the latest fighting erupted and will help us to save the lives of thousands of malnourished people," said Manuel Aranda da Silva, WFP's regional director for West Africa.

The 12 tonnes of biscuits will be distributed by WFP and other aid groups to around 100,000 of the most vulnerable people in Monrovia, including thousands of displaced who have set up temporary camps close to the airport.

Some of the food will be sent to hospitals in the city that are critically short of supplies and to camps for internally displaced people in the interior, which have not received any aid since June.

"It is an expensive operation but we have no choice," said Aranda da Silva. "People are crying out for food and this is the only way we can get aid into the city at the moment."

Before the fighting, WFP pre-positioned more than 10,000 tonnes of food in Monrovia, including wheat, maize meal, pulses and vegetable oil.

But it has had no access to its stocks since mid-July when LURD rebels launched their third attack on the capital.

WFP urged both sides in the conflict to agree to the establishment of a secure humanitarian corridor across the front line so that relief supplies can start moving immediately.

"The airlift is only a temporary measure since we cannot fly in enough aid to feed everyone. We need access to our stocks and we need it now. Quite simply, the humanitarian corridor is a matter of life and death for tens of thousands of people in Monrovia," said Aranda da Silva.