WFP hopes that Darfur peace talks will halt road banditry

Attacks on convoys are always a big threat in Darfur and pose a serious risk to WFP during its Sudan operations. The humanitarian community is hoping peace talks in Libya which are set for 27th October will make it safer to provide assistance to the poor and hungry relying on their help.

Attacks on convoys are always a big threat in Darfur and pose a serious risk to WFP during its Sudan operations. The humanitarian community is hoping peace talks in Libya which are set for 27th October will make it safer to provide assistance to the poor and hungry relying on their help.

The sun is just rising over the capital of West Darfur, as 23 World Food Programme trucks start their engines.

They are loaded with 260 metric tons of sorghum, lentils,

People talk about the danger on the roads. People are scared every day. But if we stop taking food, the people would die
Zakaria Elhaj

sugar, salt and vegetable oil – enough food to feed the more than 15,000 nomads, local residents and internally displaced people (IDPs) who have fled to the town of Masteri, south of El Geneina.

Masteri is only 50 kilometres away, but the drive will take about two hours and is fraught with uncertainty. All the roads in the state of West Darfur are at high-risk for carjackings.

Banditry

"Insecurity forces all of our staff to travel to the field by helicopter. But the food still needs to get there by truck, and our drivers face banditry – or worse. Only about 10 days ago, three drivers were killed in two separate incidents," says Emilia Casella, WFP spokesperson in Sudan.

Masteri is just 20 kilometres from the Chadian border. Just south of the town is an area where fighting has recently taken place. Still, the food must get through, or WFP and its partner non-governmental organisation, Save the Children US, will not be able to distribute this month's food ration.

"People talk about the danger on the roads. People are scared every day. But if we stop taking food, the people would die. They are our people," says Zakaria Elhaj, a father of nine and resident of Geneina, thirty-eight-year-old Elhaj has been working as a WFP driver for three years and says he does not intend to stop.

"Important job"

Bedar Eldin Dodain, 32, agrees, and says he has no intention of quitting, even after he was in a convoy that came under attack by bandits who robbed drivers and then released them unharmed.

"I'm doing this because WFP is doing an important job. I don't care about the danger; we must take the food to those people," he said.

Biggest humanitarian emergency

Darfur is currently the biggest humanitarian emergency in the world, and represents WFP's largest mission.

In September, WFP fed 3.9 million people in Sudan, three-quarters of them in Darfur, where more than 2 million people are living in IDP camps and many other conflict-affected people live on the outskirts of communities or in rural areas.

When WFP first launched its emergency relief operation in Darfur in 2004, the only problem on the roads was mud during the rainy season.

But in the past year, insecurity has become much worse – making it tough for humanitarians to reach people in need. In September 2007, 122,000 Darfurians did not receive their WFP food ration because the agency was unable to reach them due to insecurity.

Peace negotiations

That's why the humanitarian community is closely watching the on-going peace negotiations on the Darfur conflict, with the latest talks scheduled to begin on October 27 in Libya.

"We're hoping for a peaceful, negotiated solution to this crisis, so our staff can go out and safely do their jobs," Casella said.

By midday, the trucks roll into Masteri, as children wave their welcome. This month's food distribution can go ahead as planned.