UN calls for urgent action as ration cuts continue in Darfur

WFP has warned that millions of displaced Sudanese in Darfur are to face their third month of ration cuts as violence and attacks on trucking convoys continue to disrupt the flow of food assistance to the region.

WFP has warned that millions of displaced Sudanese in Darfur are to face their third month of ration cuts as violence and attacks on trucking convoys continue to disrupt the flow of food assistance to the region.

WFP joined sister humanitarian agencies in Sudan on Sunday calling for an urgent end to bandit attacks on trucks that have forced it to drastically reduce rations for millions of people in need in Darfur, and for more frequent escorts for truck convoys.

Some 2.7 million people will soon face their third month of a 42 per cent ration cut at the same time as the hunger gap looms – the difficult months from now until harvest in October. WFP expects as many as 3.6 million people could need food assistance during the hunger gap, but the effects of hijackings and insecurity on deliveries mean there is no end in sight to lower rations.

“In July, we will be forced to maintain the reduced ration because we already project that there won't be enough food in our Darfur warehouses,” said WFP representative in Sudan Kenro Oshidari.

“Since January, there have been 81 hijackings of our trucks. We have had two drivers killed, 41 drivers are missing and we have 55 trucks missing. Just today, there were four attacks on our WFP trucks. Two were attacked on the way between Kutum and ElFasher, and two enroute from Geneina to Mornei,” Oshidari told journalists on June 22.

Oshidari called on all parties to stop the banditry and respect humanitarian deliveries, and appealed to the Government to provide more regular security escorts for convoys, and to allow our transporters to travel without escorts if they wished.

Since January, there have been 81 hijackings of our trucks. We have had two drivers killed, 41 drivers are missing and we have 55 trucks missing. Just today, there were four attacks on our WFP trucks.
Kenro Oshidari, WFP representative in Sudan

“Our concern is that two months ago, the government promised to increase the frequency of escorts for our truck convoys to once every 48 hours. While I totally trust their goodwill on this, the implementation has been delayed, and so since May, we have been forced to resort to ration cuts. And if we don’t improve deliveries, we can’t restore the full ration,” Oshidari said.

Darfur needs a massive 44,000 metric tons of food assistance every month. With each truck carrying an average of 20 metric tons, this calls for at least 2000 truck trips per month in and out of the remote region.

Oshidari said the ration cuts were a last resort. “If we had any other alternative, we’d take it, but we don’t,” he said. “But we’re very worried about the effects of the reduced rations, particularly for children, who are most at risk of malnutrition.”

At a press briefing on Sunday, WFP and seven other humanitarian agencies in Sudan issued a joint statement, warning that a limited time remained to safeguard against an increasingly precarious situation.

The agencies – the International Organization for Migration (IOM); Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC); World Food Programme (WFP); and the World Health Organization (WHO) –said underlying the potential crisis is the continued insecurity in the region, which led to an additional 180,000 people being displaced from their homes in the first five months of 2008.

In addition, a substantially lower cereal harvest in Darfur in 2007, and a particular shortfall in South Darfur – combined with rising food prices – was of great concern. If crops could be cultivated due to fighting and displacement, many households would become even more vulnerable.

The agencies said overstretched water and sanitation services meant diseases such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections would have an even greater impact in the rainy season, and would be made worse if people were weakened by a shortage of food.

The agencies said it was essential that humanitarian workers had safe access to all communities to monitor, assess and alleviate the impact of these factors. And, monitoring could only succeed if aid agencies were able to carry out and release the results of surveys and assessments in a timely manner and without restrictions.

The UN agencies called for a series of immediate actions to address concerns which they and the Government shared:

• The Government of Sudan should implement its stated commitment to ensure that food convoys with escorts are organized a minimum every 48 hours on main routes into Darfur. However, in order to return the food ration to normal levels, the authorities must permit food relief trucks to travel into Darfur every day, regardless of whether escorts are in place or not.

• All armed groups operating in Darfur who bear responsibility for attacks on humanitarians — including signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement — must cease the hijacking of vehicles and assets and demonstrate full respect for International Humanitarian Law and principles.

• The Government of Sudan must urgently enact its agreement to release the results of technically cleared humanitarian surveys — including nutritional and crop surveys — and minimize delays in publishing future survey findings.

• The deployment of UNAMID troops needs to be accelerated to provide protection of civilians and humanitarian workers and assets.

• Ultimately, there must be a negotiated settlement to the Darfur crisis which allows internally displaced people (IDPs) to return home voluntarily and in safety, and enables communities to re-establish their lives and livelihoods. In the interim, IDPs should continue to have access to camps and protection against forced or involuntary return.

The agencies warned that a failure to respond now will have serious repercussions on the wellbeing and development of the people of Darfur — not just during the coming days and months but in the longer-term.