N'DJAMENA - The United Nations World Food Programme has warned that unless donations are rapidly forthcoming, nearly 200,000 refugees who have fled into Chad from the Darfur conflict in neighbouring Sudan risk going hungry in the months ahead.
WFP is appealing for US$87 million in food aid to cover needs in the refugee camps of eastern Chad until the end of next year. However, contributions are urgently needed to ensure sufficient stocks are delivered to the camps ahead of this year's rainy season, during which road transport becomes all but impossible across most of the region.
"We need food now," said WFP Chad Country Director Stefano Porretti. "With the rains only a matter of two or three months away, it is absolutely imperative that we move food to the places where it will be needed later this year. This process has already begun but is far from complete."
"Once the rains begin, most of the camps become completely inaccessible by road. Getting supplies in place now will go a long way to avoid the necessity of expensive airlifts and air-drops further down the line. We need to get food here by road before it is too late," Porretti said.
WFP faces a complex logistical challenge to get food to the camps in eastern Chad, where food sufficient for at least three months needs to be pre-positioned ahead of the rains. The southern corridor from Douala in Cameroon will be virtually unusable during the rainy season, putting extra pressure on deliveries across the Sahara desert through Libya. This northern corridor would become the sole lifeline to the camps while roads in the south remain impassable. Both routes require an average of four weeks for food to reach the camps.
Under a revision of its current emergency operation, WFP will also be assisting over 150,000 Chadian nationals as well as providing for the possibility that an additional 150,000 people could cross the border from Darfur if the conflict continues.
Assessment missions towards the end of 2004 found that the health and nutritional condition of the refugees had largely improved since a survey carried out in June. However, the missions also concluded that in many cases the local population were facing severe difficulties in providing for themselves after a poor agricultural season and had become ‘as vulnerable as the refugees'.
As a consequence, WFP is increasing its assistance to the local population by providing food to particularly vulnerable groups such as young children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly. WFP has also initiated several schemes with its partners in which food is earned in return for work on projects to build local assets and infrastructure.
"The people of eastern Chad displayed a remarkable humanitarian spirit in doing what they could to help the refugees when they first crossed from Darfur. Time has taken its toll, however, and it is now clear that many are just as critically in need of our help as those in the camps," said Porretti.
Despite the overall improvement in the health and nutrition of the refugees, their needs remain acute because they have no food stocks and few of them possess livestock in any significant numbers. With no alternative survival strategies they are totally dependent on outside assistance.
An additional US$7 million is also required to keep the WFP-operated air service functioning between N'Djamena and the humanitarian base at Abeche and on to airstrips near the camps themselves. Distances are enormous, with refugees settled in camps strung out along a 700-kilometre strip in eastern Chad.
During the rainy season the main road from N'Djamena is closed to most traffic, leaving air transport as the only practical means of moving humanitarian staff and vital medical supplies.
Donors who have so far contributed to the WFP emergency operation for Sudanese refugees in Chad are the United States (US$30 million), United Kingdom (US$4.1 million), Germany (US$3.6 million), France (US$2.6 million), Canada (US$ 2.5 million), the European Community (US$2.4 million), the Netherlands (US$1.88 million), Switzerland (US$1.61 million), Australia (US$625,000), Norway (US$593,00), Ireland (US$530,000), Japan (US$425,000), Finland (US$249,000), United Arab Emirates (US$116,000).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
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