First food aid in months reaches war-wracked Darfur

GENEVA — Warning that the war in Sudan risks triggering the world’s worst hunger crisis, the World Food Program said Friday that it finally has managed to bring desperately needed food aid into the war-wracked Darfur region for the first time in months.

The U.N. food agency said two convoys crossed the border from Chad into Darfur late last week, carrying food and nutrition assistance for about a quarter-million people in north, west and central Darfur.

It said the long-delayed mission was given the go-ahead following lengthy negotiations to reopen convoy routes after the Sudanese Armed Forces had revoked permission for humanitarian corridors from Chad in February.

“Cross-border operations from Chad to Darfur are critical to reach communities where children are already dying of malnutrition,” said Leni Kinzli, the WFP communications officer for Sudan.

Speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, she said that “All corridors to transport food must remain open, particularly the one from [the city of] Adre in Chad to West Darfur, where levels of hunger are alarming.”

While expressing relief that lengthy negotiations to reopen the routes have paid off, she warned that unless the people of Sudan receive a constant flow of aid through all possible humanitarian corridors, “the country’s hunger catastrophe will only worsen.”

Since the rival Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces plunged the country into war nearly one year ago, the United Nations says more than 8.5 million people have become displaced — 6.5 million within the country.

The WFP says 18 million people are facing acute hunger, 90% of them in hard-to-reach areas. A World Health Organization Public Health Situation Analysis of the Sudan conflict finds a record 24.8 million people — almost every other person — need urgent humanitarian assistance in 2024.

“This is 9 million more than in 2023. So, how catastrophic is that,” said Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson.

“People have been forced to flee their homes due to the humanitarian situation and the destruction of essential infrastructure, such as roads, hospitals, medical facilities and schools.

“Also, power, water, communication services, everything — all the infrastructure you need to lead a normal life” has been destroyed, she said.

The WHO says at least 14,600 people have been killed and 33,000 injured. It says two-thirds of the population lack access to medical care, noting that disease outbreaks, including cholera, measles, malaria, poliovirus type 2 and dengue, are increasing.

“Food insecurity is also at a record high, with nearly half of children acutely malnourished,” said the WHO, underscoring that “urgent action is needed to prevent further catastrophe.”

The WFP’s Kinzli said it was critical that aid be quickly and easily delivered to needy people in Darfur through the Tine border crossing or across conflict lines from within Sudan.

She said, however, that “fierce fighting, lack of security and lengthy clearances by the warring parties” have led to delays in the distribution of assistance. She noted it was impossible for aid workers to provide help “to people trapped in Sudan’s conflict hotspots.”

The “WFP needs aid to be consistently reaching war-ravaged communities through every possible route,” Kinzli said, warning that hunger in Sudan will increase as the lean season starts — the period of the year when food stocks are at their lowest.

“Our greatest fear is that we will see unprecedented levels of starvation and malnutrition sweep across Sudan this lean season, and that the Darfur region will be particularly hard hit.”

She pointed out that crop production is at an all-time low because the fighting is preventing farmers from harvesting their crops.

“Recent crop reports show that the harvest for cereals in Darfur this year was 78% below the five-year average,” she said. “That is why WFP is deeply concerned about how serious the hunger crisis will get this lean season.”

Kinzli expressed deep concern that the lean season, which normally runs from May to September, could begin as early as next week and last much longer than usual.

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