NAIROBI - As the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and neighbouring Chad deepens by the day and the number of people suffering from conflict across western Sudan has almost doubled to two million, the United Nations World Food Programme is appealing to the international community for urgent funding to expand its operations in both Sudan and Chad. At least one million people have been driven from their homes and farms by the fighting.
WFP is accelerating its deliveries and pre-positioning emergency food aid across the region, before the imminent rainy season disrupts the road network on both sides of the border.
"The situation in Darfur is becoming more critical every day; the worst is still to come," said WFP Country Director for Sudan, Ramiro Lopes da Silva. WFP's Representative in Chad, Philippe Guyon Le Bouffy, echoed this: "The challenges of feeding refugees along a 600-kilometre border where there are virtually no roads are already immense; the rains will hamper our efforts further."
Despite the tenuous humanitarian cease-fire since 8 April, people are still fleeing across the Sudanese border into Chad, prompting WFP to revise beneficiary figures to 180,000 refugees from 100,000 in April. In May alone, WFP supplied more than 1,000 metric tonnes of food to over 75,000 refugees in eastern Chad.
As its operations intensify in both countries, WFP is now urgently seeking a total of US$200 million to feed two million people in Sudan until the end of the year; some 30 percent of this total has been resourced so far. For Chad, WFP is now seeking a total of US$30.5 million, to feed 192,500 people, of which nearly 42 percent has been resourced.
Fighting involving rebels and militias in Darfur began in February 2003. Although the 8 April cease-fire has largely held, marauding militias have continued their attacks on civilians. Thousands of people have fled in panic as these militias descend on their villages, raping, looting and burning. Fearing for their lives, the civilians settle in camps on both sides of the border, where conditions are often squalid and shameful.
Malnutrition rates reported in Darfur, particularly among children under five, are especially worrying, as they underline the gravity of the food crisis in the region. To complement road deliveries, WFP is airlifting supplies into Darfur and preparing to airdrop food to any locations which cannot be reached overland during the rainy season.
"We are doing everything we can to ensure that those affected by conflict do not go hungry," said Lopes da Silva. In addition to drawing on an emergency response account to buy as much sorghum as possible inside Sudan, WFP is also opening up new field offices in the three Darfur states, expanding its assessment and monitoring network, and bringing in more staff, equipment and material to reach those most in need.
WFP raised its estimate of the total number of those requiring food aid in Darfur to two million from 1.2 million in April because most displaced people have missed the planting season and therefore will have nothing to harvest in December. The resident population, who have provided sustenance to the displaced, will also need assistance.
The food situation in Darfur will remain highly precarious for at least the next 18 months. Food prices in local markets are already rocketing just as people's ability to buy is rapidly diminishing.
During May, WFP and its partners distributed food to more than half a million people in Darfur. The numbers of vulnerable are likely to increase because even those people who have remained in their homes will run out of supplies from the previous harvest in just a few months.
Following increased access to humanitarian work granted by the Sudanese Government, WFP has been expanding its presence in Darfur. The agency has opened new field offices in Kutum, Kabkabiya, Zalengi, Mornie, Mukjar, Jebel Mara, Tina, Kulbus, Habila and Ed Daein. WFP storage facilities are being set up in each area to ensure food aid is available throughout the rainy season.
WFP has also expanded the number of field offices and extended delivery points along the Chad side of the border, to accommodate the extra camps being set up for refugees. There is a pressing need to settle the influx of traumatised people - most of whom are women and children in camps, however water sources are scarce and infrastructure is poor.
While the resident population across the impoverished area has shown remarkable hospitality towards the refugees, their meagre resources have been stretched to breaking point. WFP estimates that an additional 12,500 people among the host population now require food assistance.
A landlocked country such as Chad presents its own logistical problems in delivering assistance. WFP has been investigating various options in a race against time to set up sufficient food stocks ahead of the rainy season, when transport becomes not only more difficult but also more costly.
"We cannot afford to stand by and watch as hundreds of thousands of people stare death in the face," said Lopes da Silva. "We've already given a warning that this crisis is becoming a catastrophe. Unless the international community responds swiftly and generously, the response to the Darfur crisis will not be enough to prevent a major humanitarian disaster."
To date, WFP has received for Sudan US$59.7 million towards its US$200 million appeal for two million displaced Sudanese people. Contributions so far are from: the United States (US$46 million); EC-EuropeAid (US$4.7 million); UK (US$4 million); Canada (US$1.5 million); Australia (US$1.4 million); Germany (US$1.2 million); New Zealand (US$ 637,000) and Luxembourg (US$118,000).
For Chad, WFP has received: US$12.7 million towards its US$30.5 million appeal for 192,500 beneficiaries. Contributions so far are from: the United States (US$6.5 million); UK (US$1.8 million); Canada (US$1.6 million); Switzerland (US$800,000); Germany (US$609,000); Norway (US$ 593,000) Japan (US$405,000); Finland (US$248,000).
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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