IRST WFP CONVOY ACROSS THE SAHARA ARRIVES TO FEED REFUGEES IN CHAD
OURE CASSONI CAMP, CHAD - The first convoy of trucks carrying food aid for the United Nations World Food Programme across the Sahara desert arrived at a refugee camp in eastern Chad on Thursday, ending a 2,800-kilometre journey from Libya's Mediterranean coast and opening up a new route to feed tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees.
The 20 trucks loaded with 440 metric tons of wheat flour bought with a Swiss donation arrived in the town of Bahai late on Wednesday after a 12-day drive from the southern Libyan ancient trading post of Al Kohfra, where the road ends and the sands of the Sahara begin.
After customs formalities were completed, 11 of the trucks went to Oure Cassoni camp, 15 kilometres from Bahai, and unloaded 240 tons of food and the last nine trucks headed on to the administrative settlement of Iriba to the southwest to deliver their supplies for camps in the area.
"With this trip we have shown that the Libyan corridor is a feasible route to reach Sudanese refugees here who need food from WFP. It saves both distance and time," said convoy leader Jacobus Saenen. "It's long, but it also has a big advantage during the rainy season because it is dry."
The convoy across the Sahara left the Libyan Mediterranean port of Benghazi on August 16. The 440 tons of wheat flour it carried can feed some 30,000 people for one month as the major part of a food ration.
"We covered the whole Sahara and experienced every part of it. Flat, endless, pure sand desert with no reference for orientation; rolling chains of shifting sand dunes; sharp rocks; mountain regions of moonscapes and huge rock cliffs; rolling hills, red sand and spectacular rock formations," said Public Information Officer Casey Kauffman with the convoy to film the trip.
The convoy covered an average of 135 kilometres each day. After arriving in the southern Libyan town of Al Kohfra from Benghazi, the convoy regrouped and prepared for the desert challenge. It left Al Kohfra on August 28 on the gruelling 1,700-kilometre trip across the Sahara on dirt and sand tracks. Each truck had a Libyan driver and a mechanic aboard.
On the journey, the temperature frequently rose above 45 degrees Centigrade. The wind, sand and dust were constant and tough on truck engines and telecommunications equipment.
To avoid the worst heat, the convoy drove from early morning to noon and from 5 p.m. until late into the night. Afternoons were spent eating, drinking tea and napping under the trucks.
For food, a goat or sheep was killed each day. The animals rode on the top of the trucks along with fuel, onions, watermelons, and spare tyres.
The convoy's Libyan military escort left as it entered a desert no-man's land between Libya and Chad so the caravan of trucks were on their own from 1-4 September, depending only on the good sense of direction of the drivers, a few tracks in the sand and a Global Positioning System unit.
On 4 September, the convoy was met by Chadian military escorts for the drive through mountains where banditry can be a problem. Twenty heavily-armed soldiers aboard two pick up trucks led the line of trucks down to the Sudanese refugee camps in northeastern Chad.
Getting stuck in sand and flat tyres were regular problems. A couple of serious breakdowns included a broken gear box, and a broken engine fan that broke the radiator. The worst breakdown took more than half a day to fix. All truckers and mechanics cooperated to find spares, repair engines, and get pulled out of the sand. The innovation and creativity that the mechanics displayed was astonishing, given the weather conditions and need to recycle parts.
The new route will allow WFP to move hundreds of extra tons of food per month to camps in Chad for many of the 200,000 men, women and children driven from their homes in Darfur.
In mid-July, the Government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya responded to WFP's appeal for international assistance by signing a landmark 10-year agreement with WFP guaranteeing the safe passage of food and other UN relief supplies through Libya, destined for the displaced Sudanese.
Until now, WFP transported most food aid via the port of Douala, Cameroon, but heavy rains have rendered many of Chad's roads unusable, blocking the movement of food at times for days at a time. The most direct route from the Chadian capital, N'djamena, to the refugee camps is impassable for much of the current rainy season. Near the camps, flash floods have swallowed up several four-wheel drive aid agency vehicles and trucks carrying supplies.
The Libyan corridor should allow year-round access to the refugee camps in both Chad's northern and central border areas, as well as make food transport more efficient and secure.
To date, WFP has received US$29.3 million towards its US$42.35 million emergency operation this year for the Sudanese refugees in Chad, leaving a shortfall of 30 percent. Donors include the United States (US$15.1 million), the European Commission (US$2.4 million), France (US$2.6 million), the United Kingdom (US$2.3 million), Switzerland (US$1.2 million), Canada (US$1.6 million), the Netherlands (US$1.1 million), Australia (US$625,000), Norway (US$593,000), Germany (US$609,000), Ireland (US$530,000), Japan (US$405,000) and Finland (US$248,000).
WFP's emergency operation in Darfur for more than one million internally displaced faces a shortfall of 39 percent or US$79 million. Donors include the United States (US$74.3 million - plus US$10 million for logistics support), EC (US$22.8 million), the United Kingdom (US$3 million - plus nearly US$7 million for logistics), the Netherlands (US$8 million, most of it for logistics support), Australia (US$3.9 million - plus US$277,000 for logistics), Japan (US$3 million), Canada (US$2.9 million), Denmark (US$2.1 million), Germany (US$1.5 - plus US$1.6 million for logistics), France (US$1.2 million), Belgium (US$1.2 million), Ireland (US$1.2 million), Italy (US$1.2 million), Spain (US$1 million), Norway (US$900,000 plus US$360,000 for logistics), New Zealand (US$636,000), Finland (US$577,000), Switzerland (US$400,000), Luxembourg (US$118,000) and Slovakia (US$25,000).
Video of the convoy's arrival in eastern Chad will be available; please contact Jonathan Dumont (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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