WFP and other relief agencies have not had access to the populations in the towns of Leer and Mankien in Western Upper Nile since the middle of July. The last WFP food distribution in Leer was disrupted by militia forces who overtook the area. Their presence prompted some of the local population as well as WFP staff to run for their lives. Insecurity in the area was further aggravated by continued fighting between militia factions.
"The food's arrived just in time," said David Fletcher, acting WFP Representative and Deputy Co-ordinator, Operation Lifeline Sudan (southern sector). "Over the past months thousands of people have fled without food or belongings. They've been forced to hide for days at a time in the surrounding swamps and outlying villages, living in constant fear and surviving on just waterlillies and fish. Their own villages have been burned down and their grain stores have been looted," he said.
Leer, once a hub for food and health services, is now a ghost town. A WFP staff member in Leer reported that although people are returning, there is fear in the town of future attack.
Immediately following a lull in fighting and a guarantee by the warring factions of security for aid workers, WFP airdropped 287 tons of food -- a one month supply for 33,000 people in Leer -- and 88 tons for 16,000 people in Mankien.
Insecurity in the Western Upper Nile region this year has continually disrupted relief activities. Militia factions have raided Leer three times since June, looting and burning homes and destroying schools, a hospital and clinic. Crops have been trampled, burned and eaten by the raiders. Renegade forces have also stolen and slaughtered thousands of cattle.
WFP aid workers in Leer estimate a total of 24,000 cattle have been stolen by the fighting forces. With no assets left to trade or slaughter, families are having an even more difficult time surviving.
Further cause for concern is that many families that managed to plant this year have lost their crops and seeds in the raids and have had little success in producing a harvest for next year. Those who managed to salvage some food from the fields are already eating or sharing it when it should be stored for the coming dry season months when food is even more difficult to find.
Due to recent flooding, water levels in the surrounding areas are high and only those people with canoes can catch fish in the deep waters. Access to wild foods has also been reduced as fruit falls into the flood-water and rots before it can be gathered.
The current cease-fire between the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) which covers only the Bahr el Ghazal region is due to expire on 15 January 1999. Fighting between the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM) and the South Sudan Unity Movement (SSUM) has caused continuous disruption to humanitarian assistance in the Western Upper Nile region since the beginning of this year.
"It is extremely difficult and dangerous for aid organisations to work in areas not governed by the current cease-fire," said Fletcher. "We hope that this break in fighting marks the beginning of continued access to Western Upper Nile," he said.
The World Food Programme is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. Last year, its relief workers fed 53 million people, including most of the world's refugees. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, WFP has operations in 76 countries around the world.
For further information please contact:
WFP Acting Representative, WFP/Nairobi
Tel: (0254) 2 622043
Regional Information Officer, WFP/Nairobi
Tel: (0254) 2 622594
Information Officer, WFP/Nairobi
Tel: (0254) 2 622179