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Aid agencies sound alarm over precarious food situation

5/29/2005 8:42pm

NAIROBI, 27 May 2005 (IRIN) - Food supplies for millions of families across Sudan are running critically low, and many will face severe shortages unless more funds for food and agricultural assistance are forthcoming, aid agencies warned

Interagency assessments led by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in March and April confirmed that food security throughout Sudan had sharply deteriorated because of a poor agricultural season, high retail prices of cereals and marginal survival strategies in most communities as a result of years of conflict and lack of rural development.

"If people cannot plant crops, there will be chronic food shortages," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said in a statement released on Wednesday.

During the last planting season in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, less than 30 percent of arable land was cultivated, the ICRC added.

Widespread violations of international humanitarian law had also led to a general state of insecurity in Darfur and resulted in restrictions on the movement of people and animals. Entire communities had been displaced into overcrowded camps.

If no further progress was achieved in terms of helping people to move about safely before the coming rainy season, the next harvest risked being lost, the ICRC noted. This would render millions of people completely reliant on humanitarian aid for their survival for at least another 18 months.

Jean-Jacques Graisse, WFP senior deputy executive director, who recently visited Khartoum, southern Sudan and Darfur said pockets of severe malnutrition had already been identified, as well as areas where households had exhausted their food stocks.

A survey conducted in Twic and Abyei villages in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state by ACR and GOAL found malnutrition rates were double the emergency threshold.

The consensus among NGOs is that funding shortfalls must be addressed immediately to avoid serious suffering of those who already experienced famine in 1998 in the southwestern region of Bahr el Ghazal, where tens of thousands of people died.

Of the US $302 million budget required for WFP operations across southern Sudan in 2005, only $78 million has been received. This represents a shortfall of $224 million – or 74 percent of requested funding.

"I am worried some areas may suffer a disaster if we don’t have the resources to save lives," said Graisse in a statement on Tuesday.

"In addition to Darfur and the south, many pockets of food insecurity exist elsewhere in Sudan, requiring significant assistance," said Fernanda Guerrieri, chief of the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) emergency operations service, on Wednesday.

Hand tools and over 6,000 mt of food-crop seeds were being distributed in a number of areas, along with veterinary medicines and supplies for livestock-protection campaigns and small-scale fishing inputs.

However, as many war-displaced persons were expected to return home with the commencement of the 2005 harvest period and dry season, more funds were needed to prepare for the next planting season, according to Marc Bellemans, FAO's senior emergency coordinator for northern Sudan.

For 2005, FAO had appealed for nearly $62 million in emergency assistance to support Sudan’s agriculture sector. So far, Bellemans said, $10.5 million - just 17 percent - had been funded.

Erminio Sacco, FAO's emergency coordinator for southern Sudan, said an estimated 580,000 displaced persons were expected to return to the south after the rainy season.

"Most will be returning with nothing to communities that are already extremely poor. If we overburden these communities, we risk creating further conflict. So we are very carefully targeting the most vulnerable people, whether residents or returnees," Sacco said.

One of the issues being tackled in connection with the potential flow of returnees was land tenure.

"Most areas don't have formal mechanisms for allocating land," said Sacco. "There's no legislation or land titling. So FAO is working with local authorities to explore how customary rights and community land-allocation mechanisms can be formalised to strengthen the capacity of local authorities to handle the influx of returnees and their needs for access to different types of land."

"We have to fight so many obstacles to reach people who need food in Africa’s largest country," said Graisse. "Logistics, insecurity, banditry and sadly above all low levels of donor funding - all these combine to impede our work."

WFP estimates that more than six million people require food aid across Sudan.

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