Up to 600000 rural Azerbaijanis face food shortages UN food agency warns

From 400,000 to 600,000 rural Azerbaijanis face food shortages and nearly 300,000 of the 1 million people displaced by the conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh are likely to continue to rely on food aid for the foreseeable future, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.“In the absence of food assistance, two thirds of this displaced population would become food insecure very quickly,” said WFP’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Amir Abdulla. A whole generation of children could be affected by malnutrition.The warning comes in the first “Food Security and Nutrition Report” on Azerbaijan, where WFP faces a shortfall of about $4 million out of an appeal for $21 million for a three-year humanitarian operation that started in January 2003.For over a decade, WFP has been assisting people displaced by the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, when Azerbaijanis fled the region to other parts of Azerbaijan, where many still live in sub-standard conditions and have severely limited assets.An overwhelming majority are heavily dependent on the Government’s $6 monthly allowance and nearly 90 per cent purchase food on credit or borrowed money. Despite receiving food aid, the bulk of additional expenditures are on food or medical care and more than half of the families have at least one member suffering from a chronic illness, the report said.The survey found that children in rural area were likely to be born malnourished, with about 1 in 5 described as being “smaller than normal” or “very small” at birth. More than 30 per cent of the rural children under the age of five were stunted.Micronutrient deficiencies are also problematic in rural areas with 25 per cent of the households reporting goitre problems among family members and only two-thirds of the sample households adequately using iodized salt.“It’s critical for these children to have access to better foods otherwise malnutrition could affect a whole generation,” WFP Country Director Rahman Chowdhury said.

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