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WFP airlifts food aid into Darfur

AS CONDITIONS DETERIORATE, WFP AIRLIFTS FOOD AID INTO DARFUR, WEST SUDAN.

NAIROBI - In a move to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in North Darfur, the United Nations World Food Programme began an airlift yesterday of some 500 metric tonnes of sorghum.

The airlift, to El Fasher, is an interim measure to ensure that food reaches people who have been cut off since November. Insecurity continues to prevent WFP from transporting food by road from its main warehouses in El Obeid, Northern Kodofan, to key supply points in Darfur (El Fasher and Nyala).

"We are not planning a massive airlift to the region, since we hope that road transportation will be re-established very soon," said Bradley Guerrant, WFP's Deputy Country Director for Sudan. This is intended to meet the urgent needs of people we have been unable to reach for several months."

The airlift of sorghum is in response to additional urgent needs in the region, where in recent weeks WFP has managed to distribute nearly 2,000 metric tonnes of food assistance to 105,000 displaced people (96,000 in Kutum town and another 9,000 in four other locations - Porsaed, Sheikh Abdel Bagi, Masry and Un Sayala). An additional 28,000 displaced people are still expecting assistance in Kutum town, where WFP's stocks have run out.

WFP staff members who just visited the displaced people in both Kutum and Geneina described their situation as deplorable: they have lost all their possessions, many are living in the open, without any facilities. Women and children arrive exhausted; many with injuries, but there is no medical care. They are traumatised by what they have gone through. Their villages have been burned down, relatives and neighbours have been killed, and in fleeing, they have been forced to walk for days under the constant threat of further attacks.

"It is a very, very alarming situation," said Getachew Diriba, WFP Senior Programme Officer for Sudan, who has just accompanied a delegation from the European Union to the area. "All they have to protect them is the sky of Geneina. No matter how seriously wounded they are, there is hardly anything to alleviate their suffering."

An estimated one million people have been displaced in Darfur as a result of the conflict between rebel movements, militias and the Government of Sudan. To escape the fighting which began a year ago, another 110,000 people have crossed the border into Chad where they will receive WFP food. On the Sudanese side of the border, humanitarian agencies are hopeful that current access to Kutum will be extended to cover other areas in Greater Darfur so that assistance can reach those who desperately need it.

Meanwhile, WFP has also started moving food by road from Nyala, where it has pre-positioned stocks of 750 metric tonnes of food, to various locations in West Darfur. The agency is targeting 45,000 people in Zalinge, Nerteti, Deileji, Mukjar and another 40,000 in six camps located around Geneina. Insecurity and subsequent relocation of UN staff based in Geneina has prevented the provision of food assistance since November. Food distributions in Geneina resumed on Sunday, 15 February, following the return of WFP staff to the area two days earlier.

WFP will consider diverting part of the current airlift to Geneina if security conditions deteriorate and prevent commodities getting there by road from Nyala.

WFP plans to use part of its regular fleet in El Obeid, including an Ilyushin 76 and two Antonov 12's, in what is expected to be a one week operation, costing approximately US$200,000. An expansion of the operation to the other capitals of the Darfur states might be considered, depending on security conditions for road transportation.

WFP has, meanwhile, welcomed the resumption of passenger flights to Darfur's three state capitals (Nyala, El Fasher and Geneina) allowing humanitarian staff to travel to them. The suspension of flights in January has been a major obstacle to providing aid to people affected by the conflict in Darfur.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome
Tel: +39-06-65132602,
E-mail: Brenda.Barton@wfp.org

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva
Tel: +41-22-9178564
E-mail: Christiane.Berthiaume@wfp.org

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel: +1-212-9635196
E-mail: rowe@un.org

Gregory Barrow
WFP/London
Tel: +44-7968-008474