WFP AIR DROPS FOOD INTO REMOTE PARTS OF SUDAN'S WEST DARFUR
FUR BURANGA, West Darfur - The United Nations World Food Programme has begun air drops of food into the most inaccessible parts of western Sudan's violence-ravaged Darfur region. The food assistance will reach more than 70,000 displaced people and local residents who have been cut off from aid because of the rainy season and insecurity.
The first site for WFP air drops was the farming town of Fur Buranga in West Darfur, the state hardest-hit by the rainy season. A MI-8 helicopter delivered a team of WFP staff last Thursday to clear an area for 11 tonnes of corn-soya blend (CSB) and 11 tonnes of pulses dropped by an Antonov-12 transport aircraft on Sunday.
"Dropping food by air is always an expensive last resort, but for many parts of Darfur we simply have no other option at this time of year," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP's Country Director in Sudan.
"The start of these air drops, which require an enormous amount of planning and resources, is a further sign of our commitment to ensure that the people of Darfur are given all possible assistance to survive this most appalling crisis. But to do this properly we still urgently need contributions of food and money," Lopes da Silva added.
The Darfur air-drop operation continues on Monday with a series of missions over several days involving the Antonov-12 and an Ilyushin-76 flying out of El-Obeid to drop some 500 tonnes this week of cereals, pulses, CSB and salt. The beneficiaries are a total of 26,000 people in Fur Buranga, which is 150 kilometres south of the West Darfur state capital of El Geneina, close to the border with Chad.
The MI-8 helicopter ferries a preparation team to clear the drop site and inform the beneficiaries. Another team oversees the distribution of the WFP food to the needy at Fur Buranga from Monday for several days. WFP's partner, Save the Children United States, will help distribute the 400 tonnes of cereals, 48 tonnes of pulses, 47.5 tonnes of corn-soya blend and four tonnes of salt for Fur Buranga.
During the first phase of drops, six more locations will be targeted by WFP: Habilla, Arara, Beida, Kongo Harasa, Mastari and Morni. A total of 1,400 tonnes of food will be dropped at the seven sites -assisting a combined population of 72,000 local residents and people displaced by attacks and conflict in Darfur.
An example of the difficulties in getting food by road to people uprooted by attacks on their villages, was seen last Thursday when men who identified themselves as members of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army stopped and looted two trucks of 50 tonnes of WFP food on the road from Ed-Daein to the South Darfur capital of Nyala.
The looting near the village of Labadu was the second such incident in the same area in 10 days. On July 20, men identifying themselves as SLA members took 300 bags of WFP sorghum and 300 bags of other cereals from two trucks contracted by WFP near Labadu. No casualties were reported in either case.
"This obviously undermines WFP's ability to deliver food to the people who need it most," said Lopes da Silva.
A temporary shortage of jet fuel in Sudan hindered both the air-drop operation and a WFP airlift from Addis Ababa of 2,000 tonnes of CSB to the Darfur states. The government of Sudan has recently imported 10,000 tonnes of jet fuel to address the shortage. WFP is discussing with the government measures to guarantee sufficient fuel for its humanitarian operation.
Unless the low levels of jet fuel force a temporary suspension of the air drops, they should continue throughout the rainy season into September, by which time all the locations should once again be accessible by road -- the mainstay of WFP's campaign to get food to the hungry people of the three Darfur states.
In July, WFP aimed to reach one million people with food aid, with the target rising to 1.2 million in August. The air-drop operation will go some way towards achieving this goal, but the challenges posed by insecurity, banditry, bad weather and a shortage of resources are enormous.
WFP urgently needs donors to help fund its work in Darfur, particularly in view of the extra costs involved in mounting such an extensive air-drop operation in Africa's largest country. To date, WFP has received a total of US$68,526,595 out of US$195,300,716 required for its Darfur emergency work in 2004, meaning that WFP so far has little more than one-third of the funding that it needs this year.
On average, a truck loaded with food takes more than three weeks to reach Darfur from Port Sudan on the Red Sea. In the June-September rainy season swollen wadis cut roads and ordinary trucks get bogged down in mud. Poor sanitation and dirty drinking water heighten the threat posed by water-borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery.
Donors who have begun to contribute to WFP's emergency operation in Darfur include the United States (US$46 million), the European Commission (US$4.6 million), the United Kingdom (US$3 million), Canada (US$2.9 million), Australia (US$1.4 million), Denmark (US$1.3 million), France (US$1.2 million), Belgium (US$1.2 million), Ireland (US$1.2 million), Germany (US$1.2 million), Spain (US$1.1 million), Norway (US$900,000), New Zealand (US$600,000), Finland (US$600,000), the Netherlands (US$600,000), Switzerland (US$400,000) and Luxembourg (US$100,000).
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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