Food Aid Key in 2010 as Sudan Faces Crossroads

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Southern Sudan faces a tough year in 2010 with drought and widespread insecurity pushing up levels of hunger at the same time as the region grapples with political developments that will decide its future.

ROME -- As Sudan marks the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending two decades of conflict between the central government in Khartoum and the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the southern population is facing a massive food deficit.

The crisis is fuelled partly by drought, which has pushed cereal prices up and livestock prices down. In January 2009, a bull could buy 1,200kg of sorghum. By November of the same year, it could only fetch 400kg.

In addition, widespread insecurity has displaced families from the places where they had livelihoods. Intertribal fighting killed more than 2,500 people and displaced over 350,000 in 2009 alone. In the Western Equatoria state, regular attacks by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) make matters worse. Many of those displaced are farmers who are unable to prepare their lands for cultivating crops.

Crossroads ahead

Analysts agree that Africa's largest country - and the south in particular -- is facing a crossroads. The key question is the south's future.

The 2005 peace deal (CPA), signed by the government and the SPLM, established a semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan. A referendum is due in February 2011 on whether the region should be given full autonomy.

With this date in sight, many refugees from southern Sudan have returned to the region from abroad, keen to rebuild what remains one of the least developed areas in the world.

Meanwhile, the nation as a whole is preparing for national elections this April. At the same time, the six-year interim period which the two signatories of the CPA gave themselves to sort out contentious issues is drawing to a close.

11 mln beneficiaries

Against this complicated political backdrop, WPF aims to feed some 11 million people in Sudan this year. Some 4.5 million of them live in southern Sudan. A million and a half will be needing food assistance for up to six months while the remaining three million will need seasonal food assistance during the hunger months.

Trying to feed the hundreds of thousands of IDPs and returnees is a constant challenge. In June last year an attack on river boats carrying WFP food in southern Sudan caused a serious setback to food distributions to displaced people in the region. Airdrops were needed to get the food in.

With tribal tensions reportedly mounting, there could be similar disruptions to vital food distributions in 2010.

But given adequate funding and security conditions, WFP will continue providing food assistance in southern Sudan in 2010, underpinning efforts to steer the region out of the current emergency so that it can build a stable future.