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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 23:30 GMT
UN food aid for Saharan refugees
Map of Western Sahara
A UN agency is to start providing food to 60,000 Saharawi refugees hit by recent flooding in western Algeria.

The World Food Programme said in a statement that three days of heavy rain had washed away houses and belongings at refugee camps in the desert.

The agency will begin a one-month distribution of cereals, lentils, sugar and oil to replace food that was lost.

The Western Saharan refugees arrived in Algeria in 1975 fleeing a territorial conflict after the end of Spanish rule.

They settled in temporary camps in the desert near Tindouf.

World Food Programme Regional Director Amir Abdulla, who visited the camps, said the refugees were already facing hardship before the flood.

"Now many are homeless and in urgent need of emergency assistance," he said. "Most of their food stocks are either damaged or completely destroyed."

A UN rapid assessment mission carried out on 11 February said that four out of five camps were badly affected and food was desperately needed.

The WFP said that in two of the camps, half of the mud-brick houses had been destroyed.

It is seeking $3.6m (2.07m) in funds to finance aid to Saharawi refugees over the next six months.

Most of their food stocks are either damaged or completely destroyed
WFP Regional Director Amir Abdulla

Western Sahara is the subject of a decades-long dispute.

Morocco moved into the territory in 1975 after the end of Spanish rule. Thousands of refugees went to Algeria.

Polisario, representing the nomadic Saharan people, or Saharawi's, led a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces until 1991.

UN efforts to solve the dispute have so far been unsuccessful.

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