The head of the World Food Program Josette Sheeran is calling for a ceasefire in Libya so that food aid can reach vulnerable populations in the western part of the country. Food supplies could run out in six to eight weeks unless a new humanitarian plan is put into place. From the WFP:

Fighting is blocking access to the Western Mountains of Libya where the World Food Programme believes food needs could be immense. I am increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation and access to food for people trapped by the violence in this area. I am appealing to all parties for safe access and for an immediate ceasefire, so that we are able to assess the humanitarian situation and deliver food assistance.

WFP has moved food assistance through a supply route from the Tunisian border into western Libya to reach areas heavily affected by the fighting, for distribution by both our partner the Libyan Red Crescent, and by local communities. The supplies have reached several of the affected places, but we have not yet been able to reach the areas most affected by fighting around Yefrin and Zintan in the Western Mountains.

The supply route is now facing serious challenges due to insecurity in many of the areas, in addition to severe fuel shortages.

WFP chartered two ships to Misrata carrying food assistance and other relief items on behalf of the humanitarian community, but shelling of the port is now making it more difficult to send aid. On 25 April, a vessel chartered by WFP came under fire while departing the port of Misrata. We need immediate safe access to Misrata to send more humanitarian assistance.

So far, the UN humanitarian system has not received any sort of assurances by the Gaddafi regime that they can deliver aid in territory under loyalist control. The same is not true in Benghazi and points east where there is quite a robust UN humanitarian operation coordinated with the support of a local entity called the The Libyan Committee for Humanitarian Relief.

The most pressing concern for the humanitarian community right now is the western Nafusa mountain region. A situation report from OCHA reports rapidly dwindling food stocks there, which must be replaced via delivery from Tunisia. Amid the fighting, this is becoming increasingly difficult.

For humanitarian space to be opened before food stocks run dry, there needs to be some commitment on the part of the belligerents for some sort of ceasefire. NATO — whether or not they would like the moniker —  is belligerent in this conflict. To be sure, the WFP and other humanitarians are less concerned that they may be targeted by NATO warplanes than undisciplined rebels or regime loyalists, but a cease-fire is a cease fire.

NATO should pledge to participate in a humanitarian ceasefire as a sign of a commitment to its civilian protection mandate.   That may provide some momentum for the belligerents on the ground to agree to a temporary pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian supplies into areas they are needed the most.

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