The United Nations World Food Programme said today a crippling shortage of jet fuel for its air hub at El Obeid slashed its ability to airlift and airdrop food aid in Sudan at the height of the annual hunger season, cutting deliveries of food to the south by half at the worst time of the year.
The shortage of JetA1 fuel was the major reason why WFP only delivered 1,678 metric tons of food aid by air from El Obeid to the south in August against a target of 11,692 tons.
WFP had planned in August to deliver 20,700 tons of food for 1.3 million people in southern Sudan by air, road and river. But by the end of the month only 10,600 tons of food had reached 128 distribution centres – 51 percent of the planned deliveries for the month – mainly from Lokichoggio in northwestern Kenya and by road via the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
“This could not have happened at a worse time for the people of Sudan,” said WFP Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva. Supplies of JetA1 were short even before Sudan closed its Khartoum refinery for maintenance in July. That together with slow deliveries of fuel, a shortage of tankers, limited storage and high demand prevented WFP from bridging the gap.
“In particular, our main air hub at El Obeid was hit hardest,” Lopes da Silva said. “We had hoped to move 11,692 tons of food from there to Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal, the Nuba Mountains and parts of Upper Nile in August. We only managed to deliver 1,678 tons.”
“This is a tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people,” he added. “Supplies of JetA1 were short even before the refinery closure. That pushed us over the edge. We tried everything we could to get sufficient supplies in time, but the demand was simply too great.”
“Bringing food in by air is relatively costly, but with the rainy season and lack of roads in the south – as well as late arrival of donor funds curtailing pre-positioning - we had no alternative at this time of year but to rely on airdrops and airlifts,” he added. The Khartoum refinery is the only one in Sudan to produce JetA1.
Insufficient contributions and the late arrival of donor funds for WFP’s Emergency Operation for the South made it impossible pre-position food by land before the rains. A total of 5,289 tons of food aid were delivered by air to the south from Lokichoggio in addition to the 1,678 tons from El-Obeid, meaning 37.2 percent of the overall air delivery target was reached for August.
The shortage of JetA1 is persisting into September and also hampered deliveries of food aid to the Darfur region of western Sudan – where WFP is feeding more than two million people.
But the impact was hardest in the south, where WFP is highly concerned by malnutrition in peaking toward the end of the annual hunger season and a funding shortfall for its operations.
In late August, WFP’s partner Action contre la Faim reported an increase in cases of severe malnutrition at its therapeutic feeding centre in Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal. While camps for internally displaced people in the area have received regular food aid distributions since April, malaria and diarrhoea are seen as two contributing factors to growing malnutrition.
As the south approaches the end of the annual hunger season before the harvest, statistics from Non-Governmental Organisations in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, for example, show more than 8,500 malnourished children are in feeding centres supplied with enriched corn-soya blend by WFP. More than 1,100 of the children are considered to be severely malnourished.
Despite urgent appeals, WFP’s life-saving work in Northern Bahr El Ghazal and other areas of the south is compromised by a critical shortage of funding. Until late May, WFP’s Emergency Operation for the South, East and Transitional Areas of Sudan had only 26 percent of the funding that it needed in order to feed a total of 3.2 million people in 2005.
To date, more than two-thirds through the year, the Emergency Operation for the South, East and Transitional Areas has a shortfall of 41 percent or US$124 million. It can take four months for ‘in kind’ donations of food to reach South Sudan – four times the size of France.
Security concerns and restrictions on access to some parts of the south also hindered WFP’s drive to reach all those in need of food aid. Sporadic looting is another problem. WFP regrets two recent cases of looting of WFP food aid in Northern Bahr El Ghazal and is concerned at some other reports of diversions of food from those it was supposed to reach.
On 11 August, armed people said to be members of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army looted 11 tons from 338 tons of WFP food stockpiled in Akuem in Aweil East County before a distribution for 18,300 people. Sudan’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission recovered some of the food.
On 21 August, SPLA members looted a total of 66 tons of WFP food aid at Ajakuac in Twic County of Northern Bahr El Ghazal. The UN is investigating the incident.
“WFP has taken these issues up with top levels of the SPLM and appreciates the support of the authorities to resolve these problems,” said Arnt Breivik, WFP’s Southern Sudan Coordinator. “The SPLM/A had warned donors and others that such incidents might occur because their war supply systems had collapsed and they had very limited resources.”
WFP has urged donors to assist the Government of South Sudan to increase its capacity so it can build institutions and an administration in the south. Only through peace can the south recover from 21 years of war and develop so that such annual food shortages will one day be a thing of the past.