July 25th, 2007 06:45 EST
Darfur, UN food agency warns Violence will impede relief effort
Condemning a sharp escalation in attacks on humanitarian staff and relief convoys in Sudan's Darfur region, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that violence is hampering its ability to deliver assistance to millions of hungry people there.
“In the last two weeks, nine food convoys have been attacked by gunmen across Darfur,” said Kenro Oshidari, WFP Sudan Representative. “WFP staff and contractors are being stopped at gunpoint, dragged out of their vehicles and robbed with alarming frequency.”
Mr. Oshidari called on all parties to the conflict in Darfur to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers so that the UN food agency and other aid organizations can continue helping Sudanese who rely on outside assistance for survival.
“These abhorrent attacks, which target the very people who are trying to help the most vulnerable in Darfur, must be brought under control,” he added.
So far this year, 18 WFP food convoys have been attacked by gunmen and four of WFP's light vehicles carjacked. Six WFP vehicles, including trucks and light vehicles, have been stolen and 10 staff, including contractors, have been either detained or abducted.
The Darfur operation is the agency's biggest, employing some 790 staff who feed more than two million people every month. WFP, which also contracts commercial truck companies to haul food into the region, plans to distribute up to 450,000 metric tons of food in Darfur this year at a cost of about half a billion dollars.
A lack of security has prevented WFP from reaching 170,000 people in June in what the agency termed in a news release a “sizeable increase from the lowest point last March when 60,000 could not be reached.”
As a result of convoy attacks in recent weeks, the road between Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, and the town of Kass, has been declared a “no-go” area for UN staff, while in North Darfur, food dispatches to the town of Kabkabiya have been affected.
UN security personnel say attacks on vehicles are now the number one security concern for the aid community in Darfur, according to WFP, which cited a “recent and deeply troubling trend is that staff are being abducted when their vehicles are stolen, giving robbers time to get away before the alarm is raised.”
To date, all WFP staff have been released, although some were injured and hospitalized.