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WFP confirms massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and calls the plight of Sudanese refugees "tragic"

LONDON - The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, James Morris, today underlined the severity of the humanitarian challenge facing more than a million people displaced from their homes by armed conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, and over a hundred thousand Sudanese refugees who have fled across the border to Chad.

"This is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with so many people in the most belligerent way being chased from their homes," Morris said. "Everything has been taken away from these people. This is tragic."

Morris was speaking after leading a high level humanitarian mission to Sudan and then traveling to visit refugee camps in eastern Chad.

The UN mission to Sudan visited the three states of Darfur from the 28th to the 30th of April, and gathered first hand information on the humanitarian situation in the region. It called upon the government of Sudan to accelerate its efforts to control armed militias, provide security and protection for displaced people, and to facilitate access for humanitarian agencies.

Repeated attacks by militia including the burning of villages, widespread looting and systematic destruction of livelihoods, have left displaced people destitute. Local social services, such as health care and education, have collapsed.

Despite a ceasefire signed on the 8th of April, and a consequent reduction of hostilities between the warring parties, the humanitarian crisis continues. People want to return home but are unwilling to do so until they feel reassured that security has been restored.

"There's an urgency about our work because people are suffering, and the rainy season is just ahead of us and we need to get our work done as much in anticipation of the rainy season as is possible," Morris said, "We had an excellent meeting with the donor community. We also then asked the government for its support to quickly make decisions about applications for visas, for travel permits, and the importing of vehicles or other equipment we may need. We made clear to the government how important their quick response to these requests is."

Since the conflict in Darfur began in February 2003, more than one hundred thousand Sudanese refugees have fled across the border to neighbouring Chad. Speaking after a visit to the refugee camps over the weekend, Morris appealed to the international community to continue its support for humanitarian operations for the Sudanese refugees.

"WFP will work very hard to make sure there is enough food here for these people to stay alive," Morris said.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 110,000 Sudanese - mostly women and children have crossed the border into Chad. As of this week, 50,000 have been relocated to refugee camps, and the number is increasing daily.

To date, the local population has shown remarkable hospitality to the refugees. But aid workers say Chadians are less and less able to absorb the influx of refugees, given the scarcity of water and foodstocks in the impoverished region.

WFP is facing considerable logistical challenges in Chad to address the plight of the refugees. The road infrastructure is extremely poor, and the agency is placing emergency food rations in its warehouses near the camps in eastern Chad before the rainy season begins in late May or early June, and totally blocks access to the region by road.

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.

For just US$19 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.

For more information please contact:

Gregory Barrow
Tel: +44-7968-008474

Brenda Barton
Deputy Director Communications
Tel: +39-06-65132602
Mob. +39-347-2582217

Laura Melo
Tel: +254-20-622594/ +254-733-518085

Christiane Berthiaume
Tel: +41-22-9178564
Mob. +41-79-2857304

Trevor Rowe
Tel: +1-212-9635196
Mob. +1-646-8241112

Jordan Dey
Tel: +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149
Mob. +1-202-4223383