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Darfur: UN Fed Nearly 1 Million People Last Month

Darfur: UN Fed Nearly 1 Million People Last Month But 200,000 Still Went Hungry

Battling appalling and often dangerous conditions in western Sudan’s Darfur region, the United Nations emergency feeding agency said today it had delivered food for nearly 1 million people there in August, but noted this fell alarmingly short of its target of the 1.2 million total displaced by fighting between the government, rebels and armed militias.

"Considering the severe constraints we faced in August and continue to face this month, reaching nearly a million people in August does indicate that we are starting to meet the huge challenges in Darfur," UN World Food Programme (WFP) Sudan Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva said of what has been called the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis.

"But we won't feel at all comfortable until we have the capacity to reach every last person who is in need of our assistance in Darfur. The number of people that remain to be reached is worryingly high and we simply have to do better in September," he added.

In a report to the Security Council last week Secretary-General Kofi Annan concluded that a "scorched-earth policy" by armed militias had caused most of the violence since the conflict began there early last year. He called for an expanded international presence there as soon as possible since attacks against civilians were continuing and "the vast majority of militias" had not been disarmed in accordance with an earlier accord between the UN and the Sudanese government.

August was the height of the rainy season and large swathes of the decrepit road system were rendered impassable in Darfur, a generally arid region as large as France. Trucks laden with food struggled along the long drive from Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Many were stranded on the banks of flooded dry valleys known as wadis, often for days at a time. The only rail line into Darfur was knocked out of service for five days in August after rains washed away its foundations and caused a serious derailment.

Insecurity substantially cut the number of people who could be reached. Clashes between government forces and the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) were more frequent than in recent months, closing areas to access by UN agencies. Banditry also intensified forcing the closure of some roads or compelling agencies to take longer routes.

Mr. Lopes da Silva noted that WFP was still only two-thirds funded for its 2004 food needs in the area. “The international community has already responded generously to assist WFP in its Darfur operation, but the bottom line is that unless we are better resourced our ability to do the job properly will be fundamentally compromised," he said. “When things go wrong, as they can easily do in Darfur, we have little ability to plug the gap.”

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