Food security – protection links in Liberia (Special Supplement 3)

By Mary Atkinson, Oxfam

Temporary shelters in Salala IDP camp, about 90 miles northeast of Monrovia where Oxfam was working.

Direct effect of conflict on livelihoods and food security Violence and the threat of violence over 14 years led to severe loss of livelihood assets through looting, destruction and lack of maintenance which negatively impacted on ability to sustain livelihoods and grow or buy sufficient food in Liberia. Loss of livelihoods from mass displacement made the displaced particularly vulnerable to food insecurity.

Availability of food from domestic production has been reduced as result of displacement from farms, looting and destruction of agricultural assets and harvests, loss of life and separation of the family unit. Insecurity also restricted planting, harvesting and marketing of crops. Ability to fish in local rivers and along the coast has also been severely restricted through destruction of fishing equipment. Bush food had consequently become an important food that allowed the survival of many.

Severity of food insecurity in a location appeared to be largely determined by the degree of violence and destruction experienced, with acute malnutrition rising dramatically in periods of fighting and displacement. During the attack on Monrovia in the summer of 2003, for example, global acute malnutrition was as high as 50% in some locations, but had fallen to normal acceptable levels by September once the fighting had stopped.

Ethnicity and vulnerability

The militia in control of a particular area effectively controlled the markets and livelihoods of a local population through looting, diversion of harvests and other assets, taxation of goods transported to and from markets, and disruption to transport. The resulting 'war economy' restricted consumer access and power in markets and has helped keep prices of food high. The militia groups vary in their ethnicity base. Those of a different ethnicity to the rebel group in power in an area were more at risk to such controls, therefore making them more vulnerable to food insecurity

Damaging coping strategies

Assessment highlighted that many of the strategies employed to access sufficient food and income in camps around Monrovia involved taking additional risks, for example sexual exploitation, splitting up of families, and travelling through insecure areas to collect bush food, firewood, or food from farms. Women, girls and particularly female-headed households, were particularly at risk of sexual exploitation and infection with HIV/AIDS.

Inadequate assistance creates protection risks

A considerable number of IDPs and particularly women headed households in official camps in Monrovia were excluded from registration due to unrepresentative and unaccountable camp management and hence were not receiving their entitlement to food and non-food items. Households excluded tended to be those with less resources and so already more vulnerable to food insecurity.

Food security and protection initiatives

Oxfam advocated the need for improved registration and sensitisation of IDPs in camps to help improve the problems in registration and delivery of aid. A recommendation was also made to explore the idea of providing a community based scheme for helping vulnerable households build new shelters on arrival in IDP camps, thus allowing them to register for food and nonfood items (NFIs).

In 2003, Oxfam GB started a vegetable growing programme in camps in Monrovia that provided women with an alternative source of income, thereby reducing the need for them to practice damaging and dangerous coping strategies. Significant numbers of beneficiaries were those who are not receiving food aid due to the problems in registration.

Lessons learnt

Political vulnerability, due to ethnicity, can be the most important determinant of food insecurity and lead to exclusion from assistance.

Food insecure populations in conflict zones may have to adopt coping strategies that expose them to greater risks. Food insecure groups are therefore often the most in need of protection initiatives.

Protection activities need to include providing safer alternatives for accessing food and income.

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Reference this page

Mary Atkinson (2006). Food security – protection links in Liberia (Special Supplement 3). Supplement 3: From food crisis to fair trade, March 2006. p62. www.ennonline.net/fex/103/8-6-3