Underfunding, Attacks Gnaw Away at African Food Aid

NEW YORK, New York, May 13, 2005 (ENS) - The world's largest humanitarian relief organization warns that a barrage of attacks on truck drivers in South Darfur this month is sabotaging its efforts to provide food aid for more than two million people in the region before the upcoming rainy season.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says that on May 8, two trucks delivering food under contract to the agency were attacked by gunmen in two separate incidents in the same area on the road between Ed-Daen and Nyala in South Darfur.

Two drivers were shot and killed and the driversí assistant on one of the trucks was shot and wounded.

One truck, with its cargo intact, was recovered the next day when drivers of other vehicles found it on the road.

truck

At El Obeid, a WFP contract truck driver stands beside his load of donated food before heading for a delivery point in Darfur. (Photo by Julie Stewart courtesy WFP)
In the second incident, a truck was attacked at Assalaya. The driver was shot and killed and the assistant, although wounded in one leg, managed to drive the vehicle back to Ed-Daen. Three other WFP contracted trucks were shot at in the Yassin area on the same day but no one was hurt.

"WFP strongly condemns these attacks and extends its condolences to the families of the victims. Such attacks only make drivers extremely reluctant to transport food aid in Darfur and are making it very difficult to deliver enough food before the rains," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, WFPís country director in Sudan.

"If we allow this status quo of violence and a general climate of lawlessness and insecurity to continue, we simply cannot reach all the people in need," he said.

"Peopleís lives are being needlessly lost at the very time when they are working to save lives. We need action now to stop this double tragedy."

WFP Senior Deputy Executive Director Jean-Jacques Graisse, Regional Director Holdbrook Arthur and Lopes da Silva visited the South Darfur capital of Nyala to check on the situation and hold talks on insecurity and banditry with government officials and WFPís partner nongovernmental organizations.

refugees

The women and children of the Otash camp for displaced people near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, are among those to receive food aid that has passed through the WFP's Logistics Hub at El Obeid. (Photo by Julie Stewart courtesy WFP)
WFP is also in talks with the African Union on how the banditry and killings can be prevented and roads secured for trucks and convoys carrying food and other aid into the three Darfur states.

At the same time, at UN Headquarters in New York, chief UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland warned that funding is not keeping pace with the humanitarian needs in Darfur and across the African continent.

"Today a majority of our activities in Africa are badly underfunded," he told reporters Monday after briefing the Security Council in a closed door session. "The majority [of projects] are less than 20 percent funded so far this year."

Even the $4.5 billion pledged in Oslo, Norway in April for Darfur "has not been converted into cash," he said.

Attacks on aid workers also are hampering activities in Darfur, Egeland said, adding that aid workers are being harassed by militias, rebels and government officials.

"I warned the council that during the so-called hunger gap from July until October, we will have to tend to three million people in Darfur. That is our grim estimation now," Egeland said. "It will be very hard to be able to reach all of those people unless security improves."

Egeland charged that the international community discriminates against Africa when it comes to humanitarian aid.

"There is a built-in discrimination in the sense that ... if we all agree that a human life is the same value wherever he or she is born, there should be the same attention to northern Uganda as to northern Iraq, the same attention to the Congo as there was to Kosovo. That is not the case," Egeland said.

Global attention is too uneven, he said. "We are trying to get attention to a forgotten crisis" such as the Horn of Africa, which is suffering from "chronic food insecurity" that is now deepening as a result of drought, the AIDS pandemic, and weak governments.

Western media have been influential and helpful in attracting attention and, subsequently, aid for some situations such as Darfur, Egeland said, "but very disloyal in giving attention to other crises, including those of northern Uganda, Togo, and Chad."

Calling the situation in northern Uganda "one of the worse humanitarian crises in the world," Egeland warned, "We will have a break in the food pipeline in June unless we get more resources."

plane

With vast distances to cover, severe transport constraints and large quantities of both food and non-food items that need to be delivered, airlifts and airdrops are effective, if expensive, ways to move aid quickly to those in need. (Photo by Julie Stewart courtesy WFP)
"Already in the Horn of Africa and in parts of southern Africa we are having very meager rations and decreasing rations. In Ethiopia and Eritrea we are not able to feed all [the people] we should be feeding," Egeland said. He warned that food aid rations could be cut "from present meager levels to totally substandard levels."

The United Nations Security Council expressed its "deep concern over troubling humanitarian situations in many parts of Africa" and, recognizing that the efforts to turn back such crises were often underfunded, stressed the need for "prompt and predictable provision of resources and relief aid."

On Thursday, the UN Security Council applauded the African Unionís vital leadership role in Darfur and the work of the African Union Mission in the Sudan (AMIS) on the ground. The largest country in Africa, Sudan is about a third of the size of the United States.

The Council voiced support for the decision by that regional bodyís Peace and Security Council to expand its mission to 7,731 personnel by the end of September 2005 from its existing authorized strength of 3,320.

Council President for May Ambassador Ellen Margrethe LÝj of Denmark said, "The Council emphasizes the importance of increased coordinated international assistance for the African Union effort in Darfur and emphasizes the readiness of the UN to continue playing a key role."

Success in this second phase would entail improved compliance with the Nídjamena humanitarian ceasefire agreement and the Abuja humanitarian and security protocols; a secure environment for internally displaced persons in and around the camps; and a secure environment and access to humanitarian relief and services for civilians who are not yet displaced or who are returning, but are deemed vulnerable, the Security Council said.

The aim of a third phase is to foster a secure environment throughout Darfur which would permit full returns of displaced persons in time for the planting season of 2006.

This is complex, multidimensional operation of more than 12,000 military and police personnel that must be carried out in close coordination among the military, police, humanitarian and development organizations, civil authorities, and the affected population. It would also require a substantial increase in resources.

To meet this timetable, the Security Council says a decision to initiate the third phase would have to be taken by September.

On May 5, the World Food Programme released global food aid figures for 2004 which paint what the agency called "a depressing picture" for hundreds of millions of malnourished people. Total food aid delivered from all sources slid from 10.3 million tons in 2003 down to 7.5 million tons in 2004.

The latest fall is part of a general decline in food aid volume since 1999, when 15 million tons of food aid were delivered, the WFP said. Over the same period, the numbers of chronically hungry people around the world rose by nearly eight percent.