U.N. trucks loaded with food crossed the bureaucratic obstacles of Bosnia’s war zone Wednesday to reach thousands of hungry civilians in the northwest, which has been without regular supplies since May.
But aid workers said the 99-ton shipment would be depleted before it reached many of the neediest of the area’s 180,000 people.
“These are very hungry people, and though they are not dying of hunger at the moment, they will fall ill very soon,” said Karen AbuZayd, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ chief of mission for Bosnia.
“The people, including our staff, are eating cornmeal mixed with water. That’s all they eat,” she said from Zagreb, Croatia.
The food from Wednesday’s convoy will be distributed to hospitals and public kitchens in the Bihac region, AbuZayd said. There is not enough food to give to individuals.
“The doctors at the Bihac hospital are asking us to provide more food so that the patients can be fed at least twice a day. But with the limited number of convoys coming into the pocket, we simply cannot meet this request at present,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ spokeswoman Alemka Lisinski.
“We need regular convoys, five days a week, to meet the needs of the people there.”
It seems unlikely that Wednesday’s success in cracking the stranglehold by Serb and rebel Muslim forces was anything more than a brief reprieve in the long-standing practice of using food supplies as a weapon.
The 10 trucks had been on the road for several days, first seeking entry through territory controlled by Croatian Serbs and then through land held by rebel Muslim leader Fikret Abdic.
“It is actually quite pathetic that it takes three days to cover the distance” of about 45 miles, said Kris Janowski, a U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo.
A similar U.N. convoy held up in Abdic’s stronghold of Velika Kladusa and a smaller Red Cross convoy also were en route to the area, and U.N. officials hope they will get permission for a second convoy today.
In northwest Bosnia, thousands of people displaced by fighting have joined a population cut off from normal agriculture and commerce. Hospitals are overflowing, and supplies from the last harvest are giving out.