Darfur faces potential food crisis, warn UN agencies

Accra- Ghana (PANA) -- United Nations agencies operating in Darfur are calling fo r urgent action to avert a potential food crisis this year in the war-wracked Su d anese region resulting from ongoing insecurity, a bad harvest and rising food pr i ces.
"There is a window of opportunity to protect the population of Darfur from the w orst effects of this year's difficult hunger gap but it is closing," the agencie s said in a joint statement issued on Monday, according to a press release issued by the UN Information Centre in Accra.
An estimated 300,000 people have died, either through direct combat or disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, since the fighting between rebels, Gove r nment forces and allied Janjaweed militiamen began in 2003, while another 2.
7 mi l lion 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 t h eir homes in the first five months of this year.
Violence directed against aid agencies have led to eight humanitarian workers be ing killed this year, and a rising number of hijackings of vehicles – 160 to dat e 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 f ood rations.
The latest incident occurred on Sunday when two WFP trucks were carjacked by nea rly 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 expecte d 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 diar rhoea and acute respiratory infections during the upcoming rainy season could wo r sen 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 s ituation and deliver life-saving assistance.
Without these conditions in place, s pecifically the security necessary to deliver full food rations, the situation w i ll deteriorate," warned the agencies.
They also called for speeding up the deployment of troops for UNAMID, which is t asked 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 deploymen t .

24 june 2008 23:09:00




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