Archbishop of Canterbury meets Sudan's hungry children

Published on 03 January 2006

On the traditional day of fasting for millions of Christians around the world, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, will take time to meet people in southern Sudan who depend on the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to keep hunger at bay and help rebuild their lives after decades of civil war.

On the traditional day of fasting for millions of Christians around the world, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will take time to meet people in southern Sudan who depend on WFP to keep hunger at bay and help rebuild their lives after decades of civil war.

I am anxious to see governments, UN agencies and faith-based organisations working together to strengthen all that makes for peace in a land that has known far too much war

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

On his first visit to southern Sudan, Dr. Williams will spend Ash Wednesday visiting children fed by WFP’s school feeding programme in the southern town of Malakal.

The Archbishop will also travel by work boat along the White Nile to meet victims of Sudan’s 21-year civil war who still live in camps for internally displaced people more than a year after the signing of a peace agreement to end the war.

Monumental challenge

“This visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury will help to shine a light on a part of Sudan that has drifted from the headlines since the comprehensive peace agreement was signed in January 2005,” said Ebenezer Tagoe, WFP Sudan Deputy Country Director.

“While fighting has largely subsided, the people of the south face the monumental challenge of rebuilding after so many bitter years of conflict.”

During 2006, WFP plans to provide food aid to more than 6 million people in Sudan, in the south, the east and western region of Darfur.

Funding required

Two million of those people are in the South. But funding is urgently needed.

It takes four to five months to convert a contribution into a month’s food rations in a beneficiary’s hands.

WFP needs US$318 million almost immediately, to make sure assistance is not interrupted.

In 2006 overall, the Sudan emergency operation requires US $746 million.

Mass return

Among those receiving assistance in the south are returnees who prompted by the peace pact make their way back to their long-abandoned homes by foot, by road and by barge in what is potentially the largest return of internally displaced people in recent history.

Hundreds of thousands of people returned to southern Sudan in 2005 and it is estimated that more than 600,000 could make the journey back by the end of this year.

A recent survey by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and WFP found that despite favourable rainfall and improved security in the South last year, food aid must continue.

"Edge of survival"

The long-term impact of the civil war in southern Sudan has left communities living on the edge of survival.

Many impoverished families, including returnees arriving after the harvest, still struggle to afford what little food is available in local markets.

The economic isolation of southern Sudan, coupled with an almost complete lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, means these challenges will remain for the foreseeable future.

When farmers in the north do manage to produce grain surpluses, the excess usually finds its way to markets in the north rather than the more impoverished south.

From peace to development

To reduce the cost of delivering food aid, and link southern towns with each other and neighbouring countries, WFP is repairing 3,000 kilometres of roads at a cost of $200 million.

The visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to southern Sudan comes as the people of the region have reached a turning point in their history, moving from peace to development. But the transition is by no means guaranteed.

“The Episcopal Church in the Sudan remains one of the key civil society organisations capable of delivering reconciliation and sustained development in the region,” said Dr Williams.

Working together

“I am proud to be visiting them at this crucial time in their country’s history and I look forward to supporting the work of the World Food Programme in Sudan.

"I am anxious to see governments, UN agencies and faith-based organisations working together to strengthen all that makes for peace in a land that has known far too much war.”

WFP works closely with government and non-government organizations in Sudan, including faith-based organisations, to deliver assistance.

In southern Sudan, school feeding programmes such as one operating at the Anglican school in Malakal, are of key importance.

Improving school enrolment

Southern Sudan’s school enrolment ratio at 20 percent is the worst in the world.

Its 35 percent ratio of female-to-male enrolment is also the world’s worst, while only Niger has a lower adult literacy rate.

In 2006, WFP plans to scale up school feeding to reach 646,000 children. The daily meals improve children’s nutrition, encourage attendance, and help them perform better in school.