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Darfur's nutritional status improved by aid - but gains threatened by insecurity

The influx of massive food and other humanitarian assistance to Darfur has succeeded in almost halving malnutrition rates there since last year – to just below the emergency threshold, WFP has said. But the continued flow of life-saving assistance to millions of people is threatened by escalating violence.

Acute malnutrition down

Preliminary results of the largest food security and nutrition assessment carried out in the Darfur region of western Sudan show global acute malnutrition rates among children under the age of five fell to 11.9 percent in September from 21.8 percent at the same time last year.

Global acute malnutrition rates (which measure wasting and/or oedema) of 15 percent or above are generally considered an emergency.

The incidence of severe acute malnutrition dropped to 1.4 percent from 3.9 percent – primarily due to food and other humanitarian assistance.

Maintaining aid

"The results underline the importance of maintaining food aid as well as other services particularly water, sanitation and health. This is the only reason we are seeing the lower rates," said WFP Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva.

He warned that if aid was reduced because of conflict, insecurity or funding shortages, then malnutrition rates would rise dramatically.

"Since April, WFP has increased its coverage, feeding 2.5 million people per month in August and September – so the worst effects of the lean season before the harvest have been overcome,” Lopes da Silva said.

Any interruption to assistance would result in a rapid return to crisis level.
Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP Country Director
“But we are assisting people who are extremely fragile and chronically malnourished. Any interruption to this assistance would certainly result in a rapid return to the crisis level measurements we recorded last year – or worse – and that would be a tragedy. The assessment shows that we can make a difference and that we are succeeding."

Assessment

The assessment was carried out by more than 100 experts and enumerators from WFP, the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Government of Sudan and non-governmental organisations, with technical support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teams were deployed in all three Darfur states and interviewed 2,090 households, including residents and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Growing violence

Lopes da Silva commented that the current rise in violence in Darfur was already impeding humanitarian relief. All roads leading out of El Geneina in West Darfur are currently no-go for UN staff. Banditry and insecurity are severely affecting humanitarian work across the Darfurs.

“What we should be doing now is building on the achievements of the last 12 months of hard work. We should be expanding our operation to cover areas of need among rural populations and nomads who are also suffering as a result of the conflict, which is disrupting markets and their entire local economy,” said Lopes da Silva.

“Instead, because of the violence, much of our time is spent devising contingency plans, just to maintain the gains we’ve made so far,” he added.

Uncertain future

People in Darfur are still living on a tightrope.
Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP Country Director
The rapidly deteriorating security situation across the Darfurs also means the result of the current harvest is uncertain, although the assessment indicates better crop conditions than last year. The assessment highlights the fact that access to food has worsened, due to the collapse of the economy, a poor harvest in 2004 and the additional burden of IDPs in host communities.

“People in Darfur are still living on a tightrope; humanitarian assistance is indispensable, and it must continue,” Lopes da Silva said.

Final results of the assessment are expected to be available in about one month. The survey is designed to provide information on food security and nutrition in Darfur, on access to services and to help determine needs for the year ahead. It also covered infant and young child feeding practices and health as well as access to selective feeding programmes.