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WFP urges assistance for 1.2 million victims of fighting in Darfur, western Sudan


NAIROBI - As the current crisis in Darfur threatens to become a major humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations World Food Programme today launched an urgent appeal to the international community for US$98 million to feed 1.2 million victims of conflict in western Sudan. "The need for emergency food aid in Darfur is acute," said James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, who has also been asked by the UN Secretary General to lead a United Nations inter-agency mission to assess humanitarian needs in Darfur next week. "The conflict has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their farms and homes and left them completely destitute. Food assistance is crucial to saving lives."

The attacks in Darfur began in February 2003, intensified during the planting and harvest seasons, and continue up to now. Victims of the fighting are living in misery - under trees, or in overcrowded huts with virtually no health or sanitation facilities. To escape the recurrent threat from marauders, many people are constantly on the move.

WFP has welcomed the 8 April humanitarian cease-fire for the region, and is making plans to improve its capacity on the ground to assist all those in need. Since January, the agency has only been able to feed half a million people. Lack of security has been the main obstacle to providing assistance.

"We hope to reach people who have been cut off for months," said Bradley Guerrant, WFP Deputy Country Director for Sudan. "The timing of this cease-fire is particularly important as the approaching rainy season will reduce road access so we have to act quickly otherwise it will be too late to prevent hunger and disease."

The appeal to feed 1.2 million people will address the known emergency needs in Darfur until the end of December when crops planted in May should be harvested. Among those to receive food assistance, there are 665,000 people who are displaced within Darfur, as well as 453,000 others affected by the conflict. More than 100,000 people have fled to Chad where WFP is providing food to refugee camps.

Some 60-65 percent of WFP's aid goes to women, because they account for 80 percent of agricultural production. Women have also suffered most in the violence: while villages have been burnt down and cattle and possessions looted, it is the women who have been raped or left widowed and they now form the majority of the traumatised and displaced.

In all, 91 percent of the food aid will be provided to people who were forced out of their villages before they could plant crops or harvest them. The remainder will be distributed in schools (where enrolment levels are among the lowest in Africa); in hospitals and clinics; and to support agricultural projects that aim to help recipients regain self-sufficiency.

According to agriculture experts, Darfur would have enjoyed a bumper harvest in 2003, but for the fighting. Instead, the harvest was lost as a result of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of people are facing the spectre of hunger and death - even if the conflict were to end today. Most fled with nothing and now have little or no food. With hundreds of thousands of people remaining in IDP camps just when farms are being prepared for planting the prospects for 2004 are very bleak.

"It is not too late to avert a catastrophe in Darfur, but only if those involved and the international community act without further delay," concluded Morris.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003, WFP fed 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.

Laura Melo
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Brenda Barton
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Gregory Barrow
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Christiane Berthiaume
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Trevor Rowe
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Jordan Dey
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