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Darfur Potential Food Crisis, Needs Action Now

Darfur faces potential food crisis unless action taken now, warn UN agencies

23 June 2008 - United Nations agencies operating in Darfur are calling for urgent action to avert a potential food crisis this year in the war-wracked Sudanese region resulting from ongoing insecurity, a bad harvest and rising food prices.

"There is a window of opportunity to protect the population of Darfur from the worst effects of this year's difficult hunger gap but it is closing," the agencies said in a joint statement issued yesterday.

An estimated 300,000 people have died, either through direct combat or disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, since the fighting between rebels, Government forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen began in 2003, while another 2.7 million people have become displaced.

The agencies said that underlying the potential crisis is the ongoing insecurity in the region, which led to an additional 180,000 people being displaced from their homes in the first five months of this year.

Violence directed against aid agencies have led to eight humanitarian workers being killed this year, and a rising number of hijackings of vehicles - 160 to date in 2008. In addition, attacks on the UN World Food Programme (WFP) convoys have seriously delayed the food aid delivery to the region, resulting in a 40 per cent cut in food rations.

The latest incident occurred yesterday when two WFP trucks were carjacked by nearly a dozen armed men. The two drivers were later rescued by a patrol team sent by the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID.

Compounding the situation is the shortfall in cereal due to a lower than expected harvest last year, coupled with rising food prices. "If crops cannot be cultivated due to fighting and displacement, many households will become even more vulnerable," the agencies said.

With water and sanitation services already over-stretched, diseases such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections during the upcoming rainy season could worsen the situation of those already affected by food shortages, they added.

The humanitarian community urged safe access for aid workers to all communities to keep an eye on the situation and respond as needed. "All parties must act now to allow humanitarian agencies to safely monitor the situation and deliver life-saving assistance. Without these conditions in place, specifically the security necessary to deliver full food rations, the situation will deteriorate," warned the agencies.

They also called for speeding up the deployment of troops for UNAMID, which is tasked with quelling the violence in Darfur. The mission currently has around 10,000 troops and police officers on the ground, far short of the expected total of about 26,000 when it reaches full deployment.

UNAMID reports that a number of confidence-building patrols have been conducted in Darfur, including a night-time patrol in the village of Kineen, where the team spoke with the residents who complained of a lack of adequate schools, food, water and medical facilities.

They also said that children and women were constantly harassed by armed Arab militias when fetching firewood. The team assured them that their concerns would be communicated to appropriate agencies, and that more patrols would be conducted to the area.

The security situations where the patrols took place were relatively calm, the mission added.

ENDS

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