- The UN said today access to southern Sudan would be enhanced as parties to the country's conflict have agreed to open the Nile River corridor, cutting the cost of delivering humanitarian supplies by enabling the use of water barges which are cheaper than airlifts.
-- This important step forward will bring greater hope and help to the long-suffering people of the Sudan, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, said in a statement welcoming the agreement. "The United Nations is fully geared up to support the two sides in delivering on their immediate commitments," he added.
The Sudanese government, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the UN signed the agreement at a meeting hosted this week under the auspices of the Tripartite Committee on Access and Crossline Corridors. In addition to opening-up the Nile corridor, the parties agreed on the need to also open more roadways to enable efficient delivery of humanitarian supplies.
The UN reports, the parties "reiterated their full commitment to allowing access to all needy areas throughout the Sudan." In this "spirit of cooperation," the Sudanese parties had asked the UN to send a barge convoy to deliver urgently needed food to the Kosti, Malakal, Bor and Juba regions along the river by 12 May.
- Over the coming days we will also continue to work with both sides on further practical measures to improve humanitarian provision on a sustained basis, the UN official said of its efforts to alleviate the plight of a country ravaged by conflict for over 20 years, causing the displacement of more than four million people and death of two million more.
Access had been a continuous problem for the three aid organisations still operating in Southern Sudan, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), the Norwegian Peoples Aid and the Catholic Relief Services. Representatives of these organisations have earlier testified the warring parties were using the civilian population as hostages, exploiting their hunger for political means.
While access has improved and will continue to improve due to the new agreement, aid agencies still are concerned. Despite improved access, there is a possibility that ongoing insecurity in several areas could affect food interventions. This is especially so for Upper Nile and Eastern Equatoria regions, where government troops and rebels still are ignoring the ceasefire.
According to the latest estimates, food deficits in Southern Sudan are expected to increase between May and August. This is especially true for the areas of ongoing fighting, where farmers had to evacuate their crops. This year's deficits are also reported to be "high in comparison with the last three years."
Between January and March, 14,000 tons of food aid was distributed by agencies in Southern Sudan. This represented 80 percent of the required food aid, and as such, a sign that access to the region had improved. However, the troubled areas of Bieh, Leich, and Torit received only 50 percent of the required amount due insecurity and logistical problems.
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