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WFP alarmed at signs of serious food shortages in Sudan

KHARTOUM - The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that many poor people in parts of Sudan may be short of food because of a poor cereal harvest and high prices of basic staples so the total number in need of food aid could soon climb.

"We are dispatching assessment teams to the worst-hit areas to find out by mid April how many more people need food aid in the months ahead," said WFP Sudan Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva.

"But so far, WFP doesn't have enough food to provide for the 5.5 million people who need assistance in 2005 in the east, transitional areas, the south and Darfur. If the numbers continue to rise, Sudan will face a new catastrophe unless more food gets here fast," he added.

A recent analysis commissioned by WFP of last year's rainfall and vegetation found that the rains were inadequate in 2004 across most of Sudan -- except in the southwest. Seasonal rainfall, for instance, was some 60 percent of the 2003 amount in Greater Darfur, just less than 50 percent in North Kordofan and under 60 percent in Gezira, western parts of Gedaref and Kassala in the east.

The study identified areas of particular concern to WFP in the south, east and west of Africa's biggest country. A closer assessment has already taken place in Kassala and Red Sea state.

Assessment teams from WFP and our partners are now being sent to: the Kordofans, Upper Nile,/Jonglei, Eastern Equatoria and the Nuba Mountains. In addition, Bahr El Ghazal in the southwest was included for a detailed inspection because of reports of food shortages being compounded by significant numbers of people returning from the north.

Besides confirming how many people are in need of food and other assistance, the missions will see how poor people are struggling with the food shortages and determine the amount of food aid required, depending on the price and availability of food in local markets.

With the start of the rainy season in May or June, there is very little time to ensure enough food aid supplies and the means to deliver them are in place to address a potentially large-scale deteriorating food situation, compounded by a lack of resources. Urgent contributions are crucial.

In November last year, WFP estimated that in 2005, 3.2 million people would need food aid in south Sudan, the east and transitional areas. But only 14 percent of WFP's US$301 million Emergency Operation for those parts of the country has been received to date - despite a peace agreement signed on 9 January to end 21 years of civil war in the south.

"This year is particularly difficult for Sudan and the Sudanese people. We all need to meet this challenge," said James Morris, WFP Executive Director.

"In Darfur, conflict, banditry and insecurity are undermining our mission to reach all those in need of food. In the south, we have a peace agreement, but if we want it to last, that peace has to be supported by investing in the future. And on top of all this, we are worried that the needs of the most vulnerable are increasing. Widespread hunger will undermine a peace we've all sought for years," Morris added.

So far, donors have given US$42 million to WFP's Emergency Operation to feed 3.2 million people in the south, transitional areas and the east in 2005 The donors are the United States (US$37 million), multilateral funds (US$3 million) and Canada (US$1.9 million).

For the western region of Darfur, WFP had anticipated that 2.3 million people would need food aid for much of 2005 because of a below average harvest, conflict, the degraded economy and the threat of drought. This number will rise to 2.8 million people during the usual "hunger season" from May to September. In February, WFP delivered food to a record 1.6 million people in Darfur, a 34 percent increase over the figure reached in January.

However, during March, a spate of attacks by gunmen on WFP-contracted trucks in North Darfur has hampered food deliveries. A total of nine stolen trucks are still missing.

WFP's Emergency Operation for Darfur has so far received a better response than the appeal for the south and east and has a shortfall of 40 percent. Cereal needs for 2005 are 90 percent covered, but pledges of other commodities vital to provide a full food basket for the hungry are deeply inadequate.

The non-cereal shortfall for June until August for Darfur is estimated at 18,000 tons of commodities worth US$19 million; contributions of non-cereals are therefore urgently required. Without the full food ration, the health of those most in need is at risk.

In drought-prone and chronically food insecure areas across Sudan, malnutrition rates are traditionally high -- so even a slight disturbance, such as increased food prices, can have a ripple effect, threatening the lives of large numbers of vulnerable people.

Adding to the harm done by the poor rains and harvests, many farming households relied on their stocks from the 2003 bumper sorghum harvest and opted to plant cash crops in 2004 instead of sorghum. With last year's relatively low prices of sorghum and an increased export of livestock, many herders then fed their animals low-priced sorghum, depleting reserves.

Subsequent cereals shortages drove up prices hugely. The price of sorghum almost doubled from US$131 per metric ton in January 2004 to US$261 per ton in early 2005.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Peter Smerdon
WFP/Khartoum
+249 91 216 0912

Laura Melo
WFP/Nairobi
Tel: +254 20 622336
Mob: +254 733 518085

Rene McGuffin
WFP/Nairobi
Tel. +254 20 622 594
Mob. +254 735 333318

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
WFP/Rome
Tel. +39-06-65132602

Gregory Barrow
WFP/London
Tel. +44-20-75929292
Mob. +44-7968-008474

Christiane Berthiaume
WFP/Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564
Mob. +41-79-2857304

Trevor Rowe
WFP/NY
Tel. +1-212-9635196
Mob. +1-646-8241112
rowe@un.org