A top official of the United Nations World Food Programme indicated today that the crippling shortage of funds for WFP operations in southern Sudan must be corrected urgently to avoid serious suffering for those who experienced famine in 1998 in Bahr El Ghazal, in which tens of thousands of people died.
Halfway through 2005 and at the start of the leanest time of year in Sudan, WFP’s operation to feed a total of 3.2 million people in the south, transitional areas and east, including returnees in need, has a massive shortfall of US$224 million (74%) out of the US$302 million required.
WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director Jean-Jacques Graisse, recently back from Khartoum, southern Sudan and Darfur, said pockets of severe malnutrition had already been identified as well as areas where households had exhausted their food stocks.
“I am worried some areas may suffer a disaster if we don’t have the resources to save lives,” said Graisse, who witnessed the 1998 famine in Bahr El Ghazal.
In addition, results just released from a WFP-coordinated assessment in the long-neglected east of Sudan shows chronic malnutrition after decades of drought and poverty. This year, many people in the east are being pushed to their limits with the added burden of fast-rising food prices.
Malnutrition rates are comparable to the south and Darfur. The east is part of the overall appeal (seeking US$302 million) for the south so an immediate response from donors is essential.
The total number of people requiring food aid across Sudan is more than six million.
In Darfur in the west, insecurity and a US$167 million shortfall (38%) are making it very difficult for WFP to feed an average 2.5 million people in 2005. In addition, a worst-case scenario may occur, resulting in up to 3.25 million people needing WFP food aid in Darfur by August. WFP would require an additional 84,000 metric tons of food worth US$96 million to meet these increased demands. WFP's Humanitarian Air Services (WFP-HAS) which provide vital passenger and cargo services throughout Sudan for the humanitarian community, donors, and the media, will have to cut back services if contributions of US$5 million are not received immediately. Overall WFP-HAS faces a shortfall of US$14 million for 2005.
“We have to fight so many obstacles to reach people who need food in Africa’s largest country,” said Graisse. “Logistics, insecurity, banditry, and sadly above all low levels of donor funding – all these combine to impede our work.”
WFP-contracted truck drivers continue to be victims of banditry and violence. Three drivers have been killed in attacks in Darfur this year, the latest incident occurring two weeks ago. Humanitarian staff work under risk of attack and harassment. Concern over security in the east of the country is increasing. Two Sudanese Red Crescent workers were killed in a daylight attack in Kassala State at the beginning of May, and UN staff movement in the area remains restricted.
The rainy season, which started this month in the south, will limit WFP access to many places throughout Sudan. Road routes are cut by floods and some airstrips become inaccessible, such as El-Geneina in West Darfur and the majority of airstrips in southern Sudan.
In May, malnutrition emergencies were identified in several southern towns, requiring the urgent delivery of more food aid. In Bentiu in Unity State, admissions to an Action Contre La Faim (ACF) therapeutic feeding centre tripled. A survey conducted by ACF and GOAL in Twic and Abyei villages in North Bahr El Ghazal State found malnutrition rates were double the emergency threshold.
At the same time, humanitarian agencies are bracing for the likely return, post rains, of hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese displaced from their homes over the past two decades of war. An estimated 209,000 people returned to home areas in the south between the signing of a peace agreement, in January, and April.
Despite the shortage of funding, WFP fed over 2.7 million people in needy regions of Sudan in April. And in an extraordinary joint effort, WFP is now leading an inter-agency barge mission along the White Nile south of Malakal. In this pioneering trip, UN, NGO and government representatives are working together to break down war-time divisions by delivering vital aid to communities along the river, regardless of past affiliations. Food, seeds and tools, educational and household supplies, and fishing equipment are being distributed to villagers, including returnees and internally displaced people, to help during the planting season.
“This is such a pivotal moment in the history of Sudan,” said Graisse. “This is the make or break time for millions of the world’s poorest people. The world cannot in good conscience sit back with hands folded at this difficult and important time.”
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