Earth Times News Service
After a public appeal by the World Food Programme to Sudan to allow food to be airlifted to remote, rebel-held areas, the government of Sudan relented and has allowed the food deliveries to resume. Almost 700,000 people in southern Sudan are facing starvation to the Sudanese ban on the large scale food drops. According to Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, staff in the area report that the situation is worsening, with more children appearing with "stick-like legs, bloated bellies, and hair that is taking on the reddish hue indicating serious malnutrition." Sudan, she said, ordered a suspension of the relief flights by Hercules C-130 aircraft in September, claiming that such an airplane had been used, on one occasion, to deliver arms to rebels who control a considerable amount of territory. Sudan later retracted the allegation, but has never rescinded the ban on the food drops by the large airplanes. Bertini said that negotiations with the Sudanese government had not produces results. "We are usually able to find some way to get around problems, but if we can't drop in places where we can't get to, many people will starve." In a statement by the Sudanese Mission to the United Nations, Sudan said that it was not the government of Sudan that was hindering the transport of relief, but rather, it was "the logistical shortages and administrative problems" which jeapordized the operation. It added that Sudan granted permission to the C-130 flights on July 3, despite a lack of a mechanism "to ensure that these airplanes do not transport weapons to the rebels." Some food deliveries had been made by smaller aircraft, but these airplanes are more expensive to operate, carry less food, and are incapable of making airdrops. As a result, Bertini said only 22 percent of the needed assistance has been delivered. Air transport is the only viable means of bringing in the relief supplies because the area's remoteness, and also because the seasonal rains have rendered the few existing roads impassable. The food aid, she said, is available, and is waiting in warehouses in Lokochokio, just over the Kenyan border. While the Sudanese have said they would allow flights from Sudan-based locations, Bertini said the donors, which include the Netherlands, the United States, Finland, and Ireland, would not accept such an arrangement because they insist on the independence of the relief operations. WFP, along with Unicef, negotiated an agreement, dubbed "Operation Lifeline Sudan," with the Sudanese Government to provide humanitarian assistance in the war-torn areas of Sudan in order to prevent a repeat of the situation in 1989, where an estimated 250,000 people died as a result of civil war and drought. Twice the size of France, Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Of its population of 26 million, it is believed that a fifth of the people are in need of assistance.