WFP REACHES NEARLY A MILLION IN DARFUR BUT FALLS SHORT OF TARGET
KHARTOUM - Battling appalling and often dangerous conditions in western Sudan, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it had delivered food for nearly one million people in the Darfur region in August, but noted this fell alarmingly short of its target of 1.2 million people.
"Considering the severe constraints we faced in August and continue to face this month, reaching nearly a million people in August does indicate that we are starting to meet the huge challenges in Darfur," said WFP Sudan Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva.
"But we won't feel at all comfortable until we have the capacity to reach every last person who is in need of our assistance in Darfur," Lopes da Silva added. "The number of people that remain to be reached is worryingly high and we simply have to do better in September."
A total of 940,418 people in the three Darfur states received food from WFP in August, slightly below the 951,855 internally displaced people and local residents reached in July, before the full onset of the rains.
August was the height of the rainy season in Darfur and large swathes of the decrepit road system were rendered impassable. Trucks laden with food struggled to reach Darfur on the long drive from Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Many trucks were stranded on the banks of flooded wadis, often for days at a time. The only rail line into Darfur was knocked out of service for five days in August after rains washed away its foundations and caused a serious derailment.
Bad weather forced some air drops of food to be postponed in West Darfur, the state worst affected by the rains. Downpours frequently made West Darfur's dirt runway at El-Geneina unusable by WFP transport aircraft carrying food to avoid dependence on land routes.
Insecurity substantially cut the number of people who could be reached. Clashes between government forces and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) were more frequent than in recent months, closing areas to access by United Nations aid agencies.
SLA forces held three WFP staff and three from the Sudanese Red Crescent for four days south of North Darfur's capital, El-Fasher. The six, who were returning from registering internally displaced people, were released after UN security officers contacted their captors.
Banditry also intensified in August, meaning sometimes routes were closed or longer routes had to be used.
A first convoy of newly-acquired all-terrain trucks bound for El-Geneina in West Darfur was delayed in El-Fasher for several days because of fighting on the road out of town. Fighting remains a problem between the South Darfur capital of Nyala and the town of Ed-Daein to the southeast, where an attack on a train carrying WFP food closed the track for a week.
Perhaps the most serious obstacle of all is the sheer scale of the crisis; more than a million people who need assistance are scattered across an area the size of France with minimal infrastructure. Darfur is one of the sternest challenges confronting WFP with very limited resources.
"We faced similar obstacles in other places, but the crucial difference was our resourcing," said Lopes da Silva. "In Darfur we are still only two-thirds funded for our food needs in 2004, and our special operations to carry out food distribution are still urgently in need of further support."
"When things go wrong, as they can easily do in Darfur, we have little ability to plug the gap, he added. "So food simply takes longer to reach the people who need it most."
"The international community has already responded generously to assist WFP in its Darfur operation, but the bottom line is that unless we are better resourced our ability to do the job properly will be fundamentally compromised," Lopes da Silva added.
A more precise picture of WFP's task should be clear by the end of September when a food security and nutrition mission currently in the field should submit a preliminary report. The data gathered by the investigation will help WFP better understand needs over the next few months and into 2005.
Of WFP's overall requirement of US$252 million for its Darfur operations in 2004, the agency has so far received US$158 million, which represents a shortfall of $94 million or 37 percent. Of the US$203 million needed for emergency food assistance for conflict-affected people in Darfur this year, WFP has confirmed contributions of US$124.8 million, leaving a 38.7 percent shortfall.
Donors who have contributed to WFP's emergency operation in Darfur include the United States (US$74 million), the European Commission (US$22.8 million), Australia (US$3.9 million), the United Kingdom (US$3.08 million), Japan (US$3.05 million), Canada (US$2.9 million), Denmark (US$2.13 million), Germany (US$1.58 million), France (US$1.24 million), Belgium (US$1.22 million), Ireland (US$1.22 million), Italy (US$1.2 million), Spain (US$1.07 million), Norway US$895,000), New Zealand (US$637 million), Finland (US$578,000) the Netherlands (US$555,000), Switzerland (US$400,000) and Luxembourg (US$118,000).
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