Letter: Food aid needs urgent action

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The Independent Online
Sir: In today's report on the United Nations response to the Rwandan crisis ('Paris rejects UN call to keep troops in Rwanda', 10 August), Yann Tessier quoted an oddly upbeat assessment of the food situation in Rwanda by

Peter Hansen, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

Mr Hansen quoted a survey by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) showing that 'only 0.5 per cent of the estimated 2.7 million refugees suffered from malnutrition. The big issues are water, sanitation and medical treatment'.

Unfortunately, Mr Hansen has not got his figures right. Not only are such statistics about millions of displaced people impossible to compile, but all the nutritional surveys that MSF has conducted among children under five years of age in Goma, Zaire, and Gikongoro, in the French 'security zone', have indicated high malnutrition rates (23 and 40 per cent respectively). The food aid effort must be stepped up immediately if famine is to be avoided.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme, the UN agency in charge of the so-called food pipeline into Rwanda and neighbouring countries, has failed to reassure other aid agencies about its preparation plans for the next few weeks and months.

Ignoring the signs of the looming famine could soon prove a costly mistake.

Yours faithfully,


Medecins Sans Frontieres-UK

London, EC1

10 August