FIRST AMERICAN FOOD AID SENT THROUGH LIBYA FOR DARFUR REFUGEES IN CHAD
AL KUFRA, LIBYA - For the first time, the United Nations World Food Programme is sending United States food assistance through Libya, along a humanitarian corridor across the Sahara desert, to reach nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad.
More than 6,500 metric tons of food for the refugees, who have fled attacks in western Sudan's Darfur region, arrived in the Libyan port of Benghazi in early November after a three-week journey by ship from New Orleans. The first convoy of more than 350 trucks has started the gruelling 2,800-kilometre trip from Benghazi across the rugged Libyan terrain.
"The human tragedy unfolding in Darfur and eastern Chad over the past several months has compelled us to respond," said Tony Hall, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, who arrived in Libya straight from a visit to Darfur. "This donation will go a substantial way to relieving the suffering of the thousands of people who have been forced not only out of their homes, but out of their country by the fighting in Darfur."
"This cooperation between the governments of the United States and Libya for humanitarian ends is a further indication of the improving relations between our two nations," Hall added.
"This is by far the biggest WFP shipment through Libya to Chad," said Mohamed Diab, WFP Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East. "A one kilometer-long convoy of trucks is an impressive sight, and we are very grateful to the Libyan authorities for allowing us to use this corridor." Diab and Hall were speaking at a news conference on Monday in the Libyan city of Al Kufra, on the edge of the Sahara.
Although the rainy season in Chad is over, limited infrastructure and insecurity in one of the remotest regions in the world have made it hard for WFP to move large amounts of food by road to the refugee camps. The corridor through Libya is a vital link for WFP to dramatically increase the amount of food it can deliver at a substantially reduced cost.
Donated by the U.S. government, the food includes sorghum, cornmeal, lentils, vegetable oil and corn-soya blend. The shipment allows WFP to provide the 200,000 refugees with almost all the commodities needed for their daily diet over a two-month period.
The arrival of the U.S. food is particularly welcome because conflict in eastern Chad between refugees and the local population has intensified recently. Although Chadians have shown a remarkable willingness to share what they have with the refugees, fights over access to scarce resources, such as water and firewood, have resulted in deaths.
Conditions for local residents have also worsened due to a poor harvest this year, exacerbated in some areas by locust swarms.
The Libyan government and WFP reached a landmark agreement in August on the Libyan corridor - an ancient trading route. The agreement guaranteed the safe passage of food aid and other humanitarian supplies through Libya to Chad by air, water and road. The corridor was first used later that month as the route for 440 tons of Swiss-donated wheat flour to the camps in Chad. Subsequent shipments include a German donation of 1,200 metric tons of corn soya blend (CSB) which also arrived in Benghazi this month.
WFP has so far received just over US$50 million of the US$71 million it needs for its operations in east Chad until February 2005, leaving a shortfall of just under 30 percent.
To date, donors to WFP's operations in Chad for the Sudanese refugees from Darfur are the United States (US$27.8 million), the United Kingdom (US$5.5 million), Germany (US$3.6 million), France (US$2.7 million), the European Commission (US$2.4 million), Canada (US$1.7 million), Switzerland (US$1.4 million), Netherlands (US$1.1 million), Ireland (US$960,000), Norway (US$890,000), Australia (US$764,000), Japan (US$405,000), Finland (US$249,000).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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