The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that banditry is delaying vital food deliveries to Darfur while a lack of contributions may ground its Humanitarian Air Service at the end of the month.
"This is an unprecedented situation. Our humanitarian air operation for aid workers could be forced to stop flying because we have no money, at a time when our helicopters and aircraft are needed more than ever because of high insecurity on the roads," said Kenro Oshidari, WFP Representative in Sudan.
WFP is currently transporting about half as much food into Darfur as it normally would at this time of year and the turnaround time for deliveries has slowed because truckers are unwilling to risk driving on the dangerous roads.
So far this year, six WFP passenger vehicles and 45 WFP-contracted trucks have been hijacked.
A total 37 trucks remain missing and 23 drivers are unaccounted for.
WFP currently has about 60,000 metric tons of food in Darfur, equal to about two months' rations for the 2 million people who currently rely on WFP food assistance.
Possible ration reduction
As the May to October rainy season approaches the number of people needing humanitarian assistance and their food requirements will go up by as much as 50 percent. If WFP cannot maintain deliveries it will be forced to reduce rations in some areas.
"It's vital that the main transport routes are secured. Our trucking contractors are delivering food under immense risks and the situation is unsustainable," Oshidari said.
In the latest incident, seven trucks were stolen and the drivers abducted on 4 March on their way to El Fasher in North Darfur. The bandits unloaded the food and left it behind when they drove off with the trucks.
Meanwhile, WFP's Humanitarian Air Service (WFP-HAS) has received no confirmed donations this year to its annual budget of US$77 million.
New funds needed
Without an immediate infusion of cash, the operation will not be able meet its US$6.2 million monthly costs and will be forced to cease flights at the end of this month until new funds can be found.
An average of 8,000 humanitarian workers per month use WFP-HAS in Darfur; 3,000 of them on helicopters to remote areas unreachable by road. The majority of passengers on WFP-HAS are staff of non-governmental organizations carrying out crucial health care, water and sanitation or food relief work.
"The entire humanitarian community depends on WFP-HAS. With a recent upsurge in insecurity in West Darfur and increased banditry on the roads throughout the region, the air operation is more important than ever. If it shut down, even for a brief period, vital relief would be denied to vulnerable civilians in Darfur," Oshidari said.
In 2007, the air service managed by WFP carried almost 160,000 passengers from 170 different agencies and non-governmental organizations in Sudan.
WFP-HAS also conducted 267 emergency medical and security evacuations and relocations.
Its current fleet has 24 aircraft, including six helicopters in Darfur.
Despite the lack of donations in 2008, WFP-HAS has been able to stay in the air until now using US$11 million carried over from 2007.
The air operation's funds are raised separately from WFP's food relief budget in Sudan, which stands at $697 million this year and plans to feed up to 5.6 million people throughout Sudan.
· On 23 January WFP announced that 22 contract trucks had been stolen and 18 drivers were missing in the first three weeks of the year. WFP warned ration cuts were likely in February because its two largest trucking contractors were refusing to continue service.
· Since then, the trucking firms agreed to continue transporting food and ration levels were maintained. However, the continuing high rate of banditry -- now more than double the incidents since the last announcement -- means that WFP is unlikely to be able to maintain commodity stocks as the rainy season approaches.
· Each of WFP's six helicopters in Darfur flies an average 80 hours per month.
· It costs $4000 per hour to operate each helicopter in Darfur.
· WFP-HAS Sudan started in 2004 to serve the humanitarian community. In addition to Darfur and other parts of northern Sudan, it serves southern Sudan, recovering from a 21-year war that ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
· Passengers on the northern service pay $100 per flight ($40 per helicopter flight), while the southern service has been operating on a full cost-recovery basis, meaning prices vary depending on the route. However, WFP plans to merge the northern and southern service this year to standardize costs and maximize efficient use of staff and resources.