WFP seeks to feed more than half Darfur's population

KHARTOUM - The United Nations World Food Programme said today that up to 3.5 million people - or more than half the entire population of western Sudan's Darfur region - would need food aid at the height of the annual "hunger season" from August through the month of October.

Revising its Emergency Operation, WFP appealed for an additional US$94 million for an extra 84,000 metric tons of food to raise its monthly targets to up to 3.25 million people out of a total of 3.5 million in need in Darfur from August through October. In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross aims to feed up to 320,000 people a month in Darfur.

"The Darfur conflict is now sadly half way through its third year. In May, WFP fed a record of 1.8 million people in Darfur - most of them stranded in camps after being forced from their homes and farms," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFP's Country Director in Sudan.

"But large numbers of others can no longer provide for themselves because of insecurity, drought, the poor harvest last year and with local markets closed. They don't live in camps, but are all caught in the same Darfur trap, and urgently need our help to survive," he said.

The revised WFP operation foresees the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) staying unchanged at 1.5 million in Darfur. But the number of non-IDPs in need of assistance will rise to a peak of 2 million, including a significant number of pastoralists.

As the hunger season worsens and waterborne diseases push malnutrition rates higher, the number of people needing WFP food aid in Darfur will keep rising until it peaks at 3.25 million from August to October. In November, with the return of drier conditions and some harvest in rural areas, it is expected this number will gradually decline to below 3 million.

The new total, up from previous WFP forecasts of a maximum of 2.8 million in need, includes people who were initially expected to have enough food but are now vulnerable. These people in need have remained in their villages and have some livestock and other means of coping, but their ways of earning money are diminishing because they cannot reach markets. Assisting them reduces the risk that they will start moving to IDP camps in search of food.

Insecurity, conflict and the poor harvest disrupted livelihoods, impeded traditional migration and trade routes and blocked the return of IDPs to their homes. Reduced movements of nomads have led to herds overgrazing in areas with insufficient water, leading to drought-like conditions.

Fighting has prevented the traditional export of camels to neighbouring markets and cattle sales within and outside Darfur, dramatically decreasing pastoralists' purchasing power.

In North Darfur, for example, the Kutum area used to have up to 15 markets. But conflict has closed all but one, which can only be reached with an armed escort. Fighting has reduced cultivation, cereal prices have rocketed, and supplies to the market have dwindled to almost nothing.

In Dar Zagawa, insecurity pushed people northwards, placing unbearable strains on scarce supplies of water and wild foods. An inter-agency mission in March warned that without immediate humanitarian aid, "this deterioration will trigger an irreversible downward spiral into increased displacement of villages, possible tensions between host and IDP communities over access to water supplies ... which may lead to a famine-like situation across the area."

Under the new plan, WFP will provide full rations to up to 1.5 million IDPs and 800,000 other people. In addition, half-rations will be given to a growing number of non-IDPs to help reduce the likelihood of them moving to IDP centers and to reduce local tensions. WFP will continue to support supplementary and therapeutic feeding for malnourished children.

Taking the WFP target to a maximum of 3.25 million people will require an extra 84,000 tons of food - on top of the 485,000 tons that is required for the original operation in 2005.

To reach more people as soon as possible, WFP and its partners will start community-led distributions, in which local leaders and committees draw up lists of the most vulnerable in need of food aid and oversee distributions. Partner organizations will concentrate on telling local people about what will happen during distributions and monitoring who gets what food.

In addition, WFP mobile teams will start directly distributing food in areas, such as rebel-held territory, where partner organizations that normally give out WFP food are unable to expand.

"We are doing all that we can to reach these people in rebel-held areas and in government-controlled territory. We will feed them if we receive sufficient support from donors. Without that, large numbers of people will suffer at this difficult time of the year," Lopes da Silva said.

For its revised Emergency Operation for Darfur in 2005, WFP has received US$324 million out of the US$561.5 million required, leaving a shortfall of 42 percent.

The United States contributed 47 percent of the total received so far, or US$265.5 million. Other donors are the European Commission (US$27.2 million), Canada (US$10.5 million), the United Kingdom (US$7.5 million), Germany (US$4.7 million), multilateral contributions (US$2 million), the Netherlands (US$2 million), Australia (US$1.96 million), United Arab Emirates (US$790,000), Italy (US$636,000), Luxembourg (US$460,000), Switzerland (US$340,000), Andorra (US$36,000 and Slovenia (US$33,000).