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YEREVAN – As bitterly cold weather keeps its grip on the Caucasus region, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that due to a lack of funding, it has run out of most food commodities for the 110,000 people it assists in Armenia. WFP urgently called on donors for more than US$4 million to provide the neediest with food aid over the next six months.

Starting in early January, WFP has only been providing flour for 65,000 people, most of whom are rural primary school children and the elderly. While some 45,000 people, including 5,000 kindergarten children, received no assistance whatsoever last month.

“WFP’s food basket should be made up of flour, oil and pulses – these are the basic foods we need to survive. But since January a lack of resources has meant we haven’t been able to provide a full food basket for many of our beneficiaries,” said Muzaffar Choudhery, WFP’s Country Director in Armenia. “Without food assistance, poor households are barely coping, and the situation is being aggravated by a very harsh winter.”

According to Choudhery, out of desperation, people in Armenia borrow food from small shopkeepers and neighbours or sell assets, such as household plots. “Many people have already sold what they have, which has made the current situation more dire,” he said.

Last month, WFP appealed for funds to overcome severe shortfalls of food aid to assist over 250,000 people in Chechnya and Ingushetia. The agency was forced to stop assisting more than half of its beneficiary caseload pending the arrival of pledges that have not materialized. To date, WFP has only received about 12 percent of the US$22 million needed to run its current one-year operation in the two regions.

Armenia is still recovering from a series of crises, both economic and natural, since its independence in 1991. Continuing uncertainty over the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has stifled trade and development. While a ceasefire has been in place since May 1994, there is still no political solution. The conflict has cut Armenia off from its neighbours and former trading partners, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Since its markets dissolved, the country's infrastructure has collapsed.

With limited economic opportunities, thousands of people lack employment and thus access to food. Many live on only US$2 a day.

“WFP is helping the poorest of the poor in Armenia – those with no work and no money to buy food or cover other basic needs,” said Choudhery. “One woman told me it’s minus six degrees in her home. People just don’t have money to heat their homes. Without adequate food, their lives are even tougher.”

Under the current difficult circumstances, WFP assistance is crucial. The agency has introduced food-for-work activities to help rebuild infrastructure, food-for-training to help promote self-reliance and food-for-education in the rural areas to guarantee that children go to school regularly and get a nutritious meal when there.

For the next six months – the most vulnerable in terms of food security – WFP needs 6,000 tons of food (or more than US$4 million) to complete its two-year operation in Armenia, which started in June 2004, costing about US$11 million.

WFP’s donors include Switzerland (US$1 million); United States (US$1 million); Sweden (US$534,119); Japan (US$340,000); Private (US$223,000); the Netherlands (US$152,010); Greece (US$135,686); Denmark (US$94,000); Canada (US$43,414).
WFP first began operations in Armenia in 1993. In total it has mobilized 133,000 metric tons of food assistance to feed on average 275,900 people a year.