Darfur crisis obscures growing food needs in Sudan's south

Published on 18 November 2004

Nairobi WFP warns that while the attention of the media has focused heavily on the continuing humanitarian emergency in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the food outlook for southern Sudan in 2005 looks fairly bleak.

DARFUR CRISIS OBSCURES GROWING FOOD NEEDS IN SUDAN'S SOUTH

DATELINE - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that while the attention of the media has focused heavily on the continuing humanitarian emergency in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the food outlook for southern Sudan in 2005 looks fairly bleak.

And when a comprehensive peace agreement is signed between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Sudan People's Liberation Army, the food security situation in the south would likely worsen with an influx of people returning to their homes.

WFP said it was concerned that crucial relief and development needs in the south remained, at the same time a comprehensive deal to end more than two decades of civil war was still short of a final agreement. Recurrent drought and floods have aggravated food needs in the south for years.

The findings of this year's WFP Rapid Needs Assessment mission in October project a 20-50 percent decline in food production in the south, except for Western Equatoria, compared with the good harvests of the year before. The main reasons for the expected decline are late, below normal and poorly distributed rains exacerbated by inter-clan conflicts and militia attacks.

"Many of southern Sudan's problems are man-made but the poor rains were obviously beyond anyone's control and leave many people almost totally dependent on outside assistance," said Bai Bojang, WFP Operations Manager for the southern sector. "We cannot allow this frustrating reality to stand in the way of the historic opportunity we have to start putting the south back on its feet."

"Annual assessments of food needs are still underway in the south. But preliminary findings point to the 2004-2005 agricultural season being weaker than the last," Bojang said. "We need cash and food contributions now - well before the critical hunger period from March to August 2005."

Bojang said food aid from abroad needed to be shipped next month because of the huge logistical challenges in the south. Before the rainy season starts in June, food aid stocks need to be pre-positioned, which would save on air transport and ensure that communities cut off by the rains receive supplies at the right time.

Regions hit most by insufficient rains this year are Jonglei, Upper Nile, Northern Bahr-El-Ghazal, Eastern Equatoria and Lakes. The annual ‘hunger season' in these areas lasted until October instead of August after the failure of early crops of sorghum, maize, sesame, vegetables and legumes.

Most households in the south will run out of food from the last crop long before the next harvest in October 2005, the WFP Rapid Needs Assessment found. Therefore, some 1.8 million people, including a projected 500,000 returnees if a comprehensive peace pact is signed, in the south will need more than 175,000 metric tons of food aid next year, according to the Rapid Needs Assessment.

Aid agencies also need cash contributions, for instance to buy seeds and tools for returnees, and to strengthen local capacity. WFP, like its partners, is expanding its presence in the south to improve food security and nutrition monitoring in various regions, interact with local authorities and support the peace process.

Since a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed two years ago between the government and the SPLM/SPLA, as many as 400,000 people driven from their homes in the south are believed to have returned, increasing pressure on all resources, especially food supplies.

To make matters worse, fighting involving militiamen most notably in Shilluk Kingdom, Western Upper Nile and parts of Central Upper Nile, and insurgencies by rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army in Eastern Equatoria, pose serious obstacles to humanitarian assistance.

WFP's operations in southern Sudan are split between the northern and southern sectors, with the north receiving food aid from northern Sudan and the south receiving food via Kenya, northern Sudan and Uganda. WFP currently targets some 2.1 million people for food assistance in the two sectors.

In western Sudan, WFP is delivering food to feed more than a million people a month in Darfur, mostly families driven from their homes by attacks and conflict between rebels, militias and government forces that started in February last year. WFP assessments have confirmed at least 1.6 million people, including 270,000 members of host communities, are in need of assistance.

In the southern sector of Sudan, particularly hard hit by the below average rainfall, 15 percent of the population suffers from chronic food shortages. Therefore WFP has more than doubled its target population in the south to 1.4 million per month - up from 650,000 at the start of the year when needs were less urgent.

In October, WFP fed just over 900,000 people with 10,500 metric tons of food. But the revised target figure could prove conservative if large numbers of people return with a genuine peace.

It is not just immediate food needs that must be addressed, but also the longer-term ability of the south to feed itself. WFP provides support to returnees and the host population with recovery and rehabilitation projects, such as school feeding, the building of roads, school classrooms, water and sanitation facilities.

Donors that contributed to WFP's emergency operation for people affected by war and drought in Sudan include the United States (US$193.4 million), the United Kingdom (US$9 million), Japan (US$8.3 million), Italy (US$3.6 million), the Netherlands (US$3.3 million), the European Commission (US$3.2 million), Canada (US$2.7 million), Germany (US$2.4 million), Finland (US$1.8 million), Norway (US$1.3 million), France (US$1.2 million), Switzerland (US$1.2 million) and Ireland (US$340,000).

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