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Libya: UN food aid arriving via newly-opened humanitarian corridor

By United Nations
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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it has started moving food aid through a new humanitarian corridor into western Libya to reach areas heavily affected by the fighting.

“Securing this humanitarian corridor is a first vital step in reaching thousands of hungry people affected by the conflict, in particular women, children and elderly people, whose food supplies are running alarmingly short,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

A first convoy of eight trucks loaded with 240 tons of wheat flour and 9.1 tons of high energy biscuits – enough to feed nearly 50,000 people for a month – crossed yesterday to western Libya from Ras Jedir on the Libyan-Tunisian border.

The food supplies will be delivered through WFP's partner the Libyan Red Crescent to the crisis-affected population, the agency said in a news release. WFP continues to move food assistance and other relief supplies through different humanitarian corridors by road from Egypt and Tunisia and by sea into the main ports along Libya's Mediterranean coastline.

So far WFP has reached more than 187,000 people in eastern Libya with food assistance and pre-positioned more than 17,500 metric tons of food stocks inside the country and across the region. This is part of a $42 million emergency operation that will provide food assistance to more than one million people in Libya and neighbouring countries.

UN agencies have been expanding their efforts in recent days to tackle what has become a dire humanitarian situation in the North African nation. Nearly half a million people have fled the country in recent weeks since protests erupted and fighting broke out between Government forces and rebels seeking the ouster of Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi, while another 330,000 have been internally displaced.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that an estimated 10,000 Libyans have crossed over from western Libya into the Dehiba area of southern Tunisia in just the past 10 days, with many of the arrivals saying they fled intensified fighting and shelling in the area.

Meanwhile, in eastern Libya, a ship carrying hundreds of passengers travelled from Misrata to Benghazi on Saturday. Local authorities in Benghazi have registered some 35,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), but UNHCR estimates that the number is closer to 100,000 as many residents of nearby Ajdabiyya are also thought to have left for Benghazi.

UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva that the recent surge in numbers of refugees and others displaced by the fighting is putting additional pressure on humanitarian agencies, which are critically short of funds.

“Given the increasingly protracted nature of the unrest in Libya, unless funding is provided urgently, a number of protection and assistance programmes will have to be scaled back along the border areas and inside Libya,” he warned.

A ship chartered by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) carrying supplies for 15,000 to 25,000 people is expected to dock in the city of Misrata tomorrow. The supplies include first aid kits, drinking water, water purification tablets, hygiene material and recreational material for children.

Marixie Mercado, the agency's spokesperson in Geneva, told reporters that a clearer picture of the toll of the fighting on children is emerging. “It is far worse than UNICEF had feared and certain to get worse unless there was a ceasefire,” she said.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, said today that the situation of girls and boys in Misrata is of particular concern, at a time when heavy shelling, bombardment, and land mines claim children as victims.

“Despite [the] outcry from the international community, children continue to be the victims of the conflict in Libya,” she said in a statement in which she urged all sides to immediately stop using children as combatants and to put an end to the killing and maiming of girls and boys.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Misrata hospital is overwhelmed and faces difficulties in conducting surgeries, as its capacities are overstretched and 120 patients needed evacuation.

The priorities continued to be access for medical evacuation and ensuring the availability of medicines for non-communicable diseases, given the urgent need for medical supplies to treat vascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension and cancer, said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.