Hijackings impeding delivery of critical food supplies in Darfur, UN says

Hijackings impeding delivery of critical food supplies in Darfur, UN says

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Banditry is hindering the delivery of vital food aid on the ground in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region, but limited funding could ground the air transport service run by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the agency warned today.

Banditry is hindering the delivery of vital food aid on the ground in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region, but limited funding could ground the air transport service run by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the agency warned today.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” said Kenro Oshidari, WFP’s Sudan Representative. “Our humanitarian air operation for aid workers could be forced to stop flying because we have no money, at a time when our helicopters are needed more than ever because of high insecurity on the roads.”

At present, WFP is transporting only half as much food to Darfur as it normally would at this time of the year because truckers are not willing to risk making deliveries on the dangerous roads.

There are some 60,000 metric tons of WFP food aid – enough to feed the two million people in Sudan who are now relying on the agency’s assistance – in the region. Needs are expected to surge by 50 per cent as the May-October rainy season approaches, but the agency could be forced to slash rations in some areas.

This year alone, five of the agency’s passenger vehicles and 45 trucks contracted by WFP have been hijacked, and 37 trucks remain missing with 23 drivers unaccounted for.

In the most recent incident, on 4 March, seven trucks were stolen and the driver abducted while on their way to El Fasher, in North Darfur. The bandits unloaded the food and left it behind, driving off with the vehicles.

Meanwhile, for its budget of $77 million this year, WFP’s Humanitarian Air Service (WFP-HAS) – utilized by approximately 8,000 humanitarian workers per month, 3,000 of whom use helicopters to reach remote areas – has received no confirmed donations. Without an immediate contribution towards the $6.2 million needed for monthly costs, the Service will be forced to halt operations.

Most passengers using WFP-HAS, which began operations in 2004, are staff members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing assistance in health care, water and sanitation or food relief.

“With a recent upsurge in insecurity in West Darfur and increased banditry on the roads throughout the region, the air operation is more important that ever,” said Mr. Oshidari, noting the heavy reliance of the humanitarian community on the Service. “If it [is] shut down, even for a brief period, vital relief would be denied to vulnerable civilians in Darfur.”

Last year, 160,000 people from 170 agencies and NGOs were served by WFP-HAS on two dozen aircraft, including six helicopters costing $4,000 per helicopter per hour, in Darfur. In addition to Darfur and other parts of northern Sudan, it also serves the country’s south, which is rebuilding from a 21-year north-south civil war that ended in 2005.

Although it has received no funding this year, it has been able to remain airborne until now thanks to $11 million carried over from 2007. WFP-HAS funds are raised separately from the agency’s Sudan food aid budget for this year of nearly $700 million to feed 5.6 million people.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2.2 million displaced from their homes since 2003, when rebels began fighting Government forces and allied militia in the arid and impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank.

Meanwhile, troops from the hybrid UN-African Union (AU) peacekeeping operation deployed to Darfur, known as UNAMID, have donated their own warm clothes and blankets to internally displaced persons (IDPs) taking refuge in Mallit, a small town in North Darfur.

“We have come to realize that Darfur still has a long way to go,” said one soldier who preferred to stay anonymous. “Yet we are believers that each and every one of us as individuals can and has to make a difference.”

UNAMID peacekeepers also contributed their own money towards purchasing stationery and school fees to ensure that one of the pre-schools in Mallit re-opened to hold new classes.