The United Nations World Food Programme today launched a highly complex operation to airlift emergency food supplies to over 2,600 refugees from Darfur who recently crossed into the remote north-eastern corner of the Central African Republic.
“Airlifts are an expensive last resort, but we have no other option,” said WFP CAR Country Director Jean-Charles Dei.
“These people are in one of the least accessible regions in the world, but they need help now. This is just the latest example of how the conflict in Darfur is having a destabilizing effect across the region.”
The refugees – many of them women and children – fled repeated attacks on their home town of Dafak in South Darfur in late May. Their living conditions near the CAR town of Sam Ouandja are very poor and deteriorating fast.
WFP staff who visited the site recently discovered that people were surviving on little more than mangoes and limited supplies of manioc. Most have no shelter and there is no access to safe drinking water.
A plane loaded with 15 metric tons of high-energy biscuits (HEBs) at WFP’s Humanitarian Response Depot in Accra, Ghana, is due in the CAR capital Bangui today, where the supplies will be transhipped onto a smaller plane and flown east to Bria in two rotations.
There the HEBs will be transferred a final time for the flight to Sam Ouandja, which will require a further four rotations.
WFP has already dispatched 35 tons of food to north-eastern CAR by road. The 12-truck convoy is also carrying seeds and agricultural equipment, water purification tablets and other emergency supplies from FAO, UNHCR and UNICEF.
However, the onset of the rainy season and the extremely poor road network means the trucks will take as long as ten days to reach their destination. A second convoy with 48 tons of food is to follow in the coming days.
In addition to the logistical constraints, humanitarian work across the north of CAR continues to be threatened by insecurity. The recent killing of a Médecins sans Frontières worker near Paoua in the northwest is the most serious in a string of recent attacks on aid workers, and has led to the temporary suspension of humanitarian work in the area.
“It’s hard enough getting vital supplies through without having to worry for our physical safety. If the situation gets any worse there could be disastrous consequences for people who need our help most,” said Dei.
WFP’s operation in CAR remains short of funds, with an additional US$16 million still required.
Donors to the CAR operation include the United States (US$14 million), Multilateral funds (US$4.8 million), UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) US$1.8 million, European Commission (US$1.37 million), France (US$1.2 million), Canada (US$860,000), Germany (US$650,000), United Kingdom (US$520,000).