JOHANNESBURG, 3 February (IRIN) -
The re-opening of the Nacala railway line in Malawi would give a significant
boost to emergency humanitarian operations in the country, the UN World
Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday.
The line - a vital link for landlocked Malawi to its coastal neighbour Mozambique - was recently damaged when Cyclone Delfina made landfall in early January.
Repairs were urgently conducted and the line was re-opened last week.
The latest Southern African Development Community (SADC) vulnerability assessment says some 3.5 million Malawians (31 percent of the population) will require about 173,000 mt of emergency food aid through March 2003 - mainly due to drought.
WFP Malawi spokesman Abdelgadi Musallam explained the importance of the Nacala railway line to relief efforts.
"The Nacala is the shortest railroad linking Mozambique to Malawi. With Malawi being landlocked we have to use either Mozambique or the northern corridor, Tanzania [to bring in relief aid]. But logistically Nacala is the best lifeline for Malawi because of distance," he said.
WFP had recently completed repairs to the Nacala line. Rehabilitating the railway was crucial to WFP operations in Malawi - which last year was said to require around 35,000 mt of food aid a month - as bringing shipments in from Dar es Salaam was far more time-consuming.
UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa James T. Morris had announced a rehabilitation programme to improve the line during his mission to the region in September last year.
The Nacala railway line was built in 1970 and sections of the track had fallen into disrepair which worsened during the rainy season, forcing trains to move at "a 10km/hour crawl" and creating a two-month backlog of freight, Morris said at the time.
"Now the Nacala corridor [accounts for] 17 percent of all stock moved into the country, that's how significant it is," Musallam noted.
He said the recent closure of the line due to cyclone damage had "not badly affected operations as we already had enough in-country stocks" to last until the line was repaired.
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