N\'Djamena - WFP is to send an emergency airlift carrying critical relief supplies to Chad, where tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees are in need of assistance.
N'DJAMENA - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) plans tonight to send an emergency airlift carrying critical relief supplies to Chad, where tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees are in need of assistance.
The 40 ton airlift consists of 13 tons of high-energy biscuits plus essential logistics equipment, from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy, to the Chad capital, N'djamena. The WFP supplies will assist refugees who fled the fighting between government forces and insurgents in Darfur, western Sudan.
Relief agencies in eastern Chad are in a race against time: food and other supplies must be in place before the rainy season begins in June - when access will be cut off.
"This region is very, very poor," said Philippe Guyon Le Bouffy, WFP Representative in Chad. "Initially, the local population made great efforts to help the refugees but they themselves are finding it more and more difficult to cope."
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, over 100,000 refugees - mainly women and children - have fled into Chad. They describe how armed militias have been looting and burning villages, driving farmers off their land and stealing livestock.
The refugees have put up makeshift tents, made from sticks and scraps of cloth, along the 600-kilometre border. This gives meager protection against the extreme desert temperatures ranging from zero degrees Celsius at night to 30 degrees during the day. UNHCR is gradually setting up camps, a particularly difficult task in an area where water, wood and other vital resources are scarce.
Le Bouffy said high-energy biscuits are critical to feed refugees as they are moved into camps. Only after they arrive do they receive food rations. The high-energy biscuits are especially vital for nursing mothers and young children who have already endured years of hardship and poor harvests in Darfur. "The international commmunity must help so that we can bring relief to the refugees before the situation gets any worse," Le Bouffy said.
WFP has appealed for US$18.5 million to cover the needs of the most vulnerable Sudanese refugees and Chadians. The funds will also be used to prepare for any new waves of refugees from Darfur, where the prevailing insecurity could result in further population displacements.
To date, WFP's emergency operation, launched in January, has received only four firm pledges - from Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the United States - totaling US$4.4 million, less than 25 percent of the funds needed.
WFP estimates that it will need 21,000 tons of food to sustain the Sudanese refugees and nomads in the border area during 2004.
In addition, WFP is setting up a special passenger and cargo air service to provide safe and rapid transport for all aid agencies working in this vast country. The refugee sites are located over 1,000 kilometres from the capital and road infrastructure in Chad is extremely poor. The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is expected to run for 11 months; WFP is requesting an additional US$1.8 million from donors for the urgently needed air service. Norway has pledged $300,000 for this.
As well as the refugees in Chad, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese people are displaced within Darfur. Most of them are sheltering in schools or in other abandoned buildings and have nothing but the clothes they are wearing.
Persisting insecurity throughout western Sudan continues to block relief agencies' access to tens of thousands of the displaced Sudanese.
For the first time since November 2003, WFP provided food last week to people affected by fighting in Kutum, in north Darfur. Through its implementing partner, the Sudanese Red Crescent, WFP supplied 50,000 people in Kutum with 875 tons of food, after the Sudanese government gave a security guarantee to humanitarian agencies to travel to the town. WFP is dispatching an additional 691 tons of food to the area to reach another 40,000 people.
In yesterday's announcement about Sudan's cereal harvest, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that 80 percent of food aid needs in the north were in the three Darfur states.
UNHRD is the rapid response base of the United Nations, able to send emergency relief items anywhere in the world within 24/48 hours. Managed by the World Food Programme (WFP), it is based at Brindisi, southern Italy, in the military airport "O. Pierozzi".
Contact: Giuseppe Saba, UNHRD Manager, tel +39-(0)831-506650, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
For more information please contact:
Philippe Guyon LeBouffy
Tel. +235-515474 and +235-524801
Tel. +221-8496500 ext. 4990
Deputy Director Communications, WFP/Rome
Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149