FIRST FOOD AID CONVOY TO CROSS LIBYA FOR SUDANESE REFUGEES IN CHAD
AL KOHFRA, LIBYA - A convoy of trucks carrying the first consignment of emergency food aid across the Sahara desert for Sudanese refugees in Chad left the Libyan town of Al Kohfra today, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced. The delivery is part of a ground-breaking agreement between WFP and the Libyan government to help feed 1.4 million people displaced by fighting in Darfur, western Sudan.
The convoy of 20 trucks carrying 440 metric tons of wheat flour bought with a Swiss donation, began its gruelling 2,000 kilometre trek across the Sahara after a ceremony attended by dignitaries in Al Kohfra, an ancient trading post on the edge of the Sahara. The shipment is expected to take another two weeks to reach the refugee camps in Chad.
"The epic journey - mainly through desert - provides a lifeline to the Sudanese refugees and once again demonstrates the huge logistical obstacles which WFP and other aid agencies must overcome to reach landlocked eastern Chad," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP Regional Coordinator for Sudan and the Sudanese Refugees in Chad.
"The Libyan corridor is a real breakthrough for WFP, as we battle against the rains and the clock to feed these refugees," he added.
The new route will allow WFP to move hundreds of extra tons of food per month to camps housing over 165,000 Sudanese men, women and children driven from their homes in Darfur.
An estimated 9,000 more refugees are near the border awaiting transfer to camps.
In mid-July, the Government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya responded to WFP's appeal for international assistance by signing a landmark deal guaranteeing the safe passage of food and other UN relief supplies through Libya, destined for displaced Sudanese in Chad and Darfur.
"The significance of opening this ‘gateway to Africa' for humanitarian supplies is enormous," said Mike Stayton, WFP's Chief of Staff, speaking at the Al Kohfra ceremony on Saturday. "Through an unprecedented 10-year agreement with WFP, the Libyan leadership has shown its commitment to engage in the international community and respond to this humanitarian crisis."
"The European Commission, the United States and the Government of Libya all worked constructively together with WFP on the agreement, signed in July, which opens a vitally needed corridor to Central Africa for relief aid. We are greatly encouraged by this cooperation and hope to build a long-term humanitarian partnership with Libya," Stayton added.
Until now, WFP has been transporting most food aid via the port of Douala, Cameroon, but heavy rains render many of Chad's roads unusable, blocking the movement of food for hours or days at a time. The most direct route from the Chadian capital, N'djamena, to the refugee sites is impassable for much of the rainy season. Near the camps, flash floods have swallowed up several of the aid agencies' four-wheel drive vehicles and trucks.
As seasonal rains demolish what little road infrastructure exists in Chad - delivering food to refugees poses logistical challenges which even the most experienced aid workers describe as one of the toughest operations they have ever seen.
In addition to seeking alternative routes through Chad to continue trucking food to the refugee camps, WFP is airlifting food with the assistance of the French military based in Chad. In July, WFP provided 2,319 tons of food to 163,500 refugees.
Across the border from Chad, in Darfur itself, WFP is continuing to scale up its operations despite a host of constraints including persistent violence, the rainy season and lack of access to people in need. During July, the agency provided aid to over 950,000 of the most vulnerable people. Through round-the-clock airlifts as well as air-drops in the most remote areas of West Darfur, WFP is planning to reach 1.2 million people in August, rising to 2 million in October.
The Libyan corridor is expected to allow year-round access to refugee camps in Chad's northern and central border areas, as well as make food transport more efficient and secure. The route also provides a potential link to the estimated 1.5 million people affected by the conflict in Darfur itself.
"This first consignment of food aid to be brought through Libya is thanks to the generosity of the Swiss Government," said Stayton. "Switzerland's donations to WFP globally have steadily increased in recent years, and our excellent partnership has been further strengthened for this crisis by Swiss technical expertise."
Chad operation: To date, WFP has received US$26.5 million towards its US$30.5 million emergency operation in Chad. Donors include the United States (US$12.3 million), EC (US$2.4 million), France (US$2.6 million), the United Kingdom (US$2.3 million), Switzerland (US$1.2 million), Canada (US$1.6 million), the Netherlands (US$900,000), Australia (US$600,000), Norway (US$600,000), Germany (US$600,000), Ireland (US$500,000), Japan (US$400,000), Finland (US$200,000).
The emergency operation in Darfur currently faces a shortfall of 39 percent or US$79 million. Donors include the United States (US$74.3 million), EC (US$22.8 million), the United Kingdom (US$3 million - plus nearly US$7 million for logistics support), the Netherlands (US$5 million, most of it logistics support), Australia (US$3.9 million), Japan (US$3 million), Canada (US$2.9 million), Denmark (US$2.1 million), Germany (US$1.5), France (US$1.2 million), Belgium (US$1.2 million), Ireland (US$1.2 million), Italy (US$1.2 million), Spain (US$1 million), Norway (US$900,000 plus US$360,000 for logistics), New Zealand (US$600,000), Finland (US$600,000), Switzerland (US$400,000), Luxembourg (US$100,000) and Slovakia (US$25,000).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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