- The UN food relief agency has reached an agreement with Libya to serve as a humanitarian corridor for delivering emergency supplies to more than a million Sudanese people displaced by the civil conflict and militia attacks in the Darfur region of their country.
Announcing the deal today, the World Food Programme (WFP) said the first shipments will be delivered via Libya in August towards helping an estimated 1.2 million displaced people in Darfur and another 175,000 refugees in neighbouring Chad.
The deal comes amid mounting concerns over acute malnutrition levels among Sudanese living in Darfur and Chad, with more than one in four people found to be suffering in some areas.
At a press conference in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, WFP Deputy Executive Director John Powell praised the country for helping tackle what senior UN officials have described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
- The Libyan corridor provides a vital link to the refugees and internally displaced population which allows us to dramatically increase the amount of food aid we can deliver, he said. Looking to the broader regional picture, he said, "it also has great potential for providing food more efficiently to cope with other emergencies in Central Africa."
UN humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations have been struggling to deliver food and other emergency aid to civilians in Darfur and Chad because of the area's remote location, prevailing insecurity and logistical problems accompanying the current rainy season. It can take weeks, for example, for some deliveries to arrive from Port Sudan, Sudan's Red Sea port.
According to the UN, the Libyan corridor "should allow year-round access to Sudan and Chad." This is despite the poor communications between Libya and Sudan. In Libya, there is a track crossing the Sahara desert leading towards the Sudanese border. On the Sudanese side, there are hundreds of kilometres without any roads crossing the sand desert. But at least the corridor is dry.
The Libyan corridor also assists in reaching the 175,000 Darfurian refugees living in Chad. A recent survey by relief agencies shows that more than a quarter of these refugees in Chad have acute malnutrition because of a lack of clean drinking water, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
- The problem is so severe that local Chadians are also affected, with nearly one in four also suffering from the condition, the UN reports today.
While WFP reports that there are enough food stocks to meet demand, the refugees have been forced to drink dirty water as clean water supplies are often three hours' walk away. This has led to prolonged diarrhoea, worsening the malnutrition.
In a related development, senior officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO), including Director-General Lee Jong-wook, have completed a visit to hospitals and camps in the two Sudanese provinces South and West Darfur.
WHO said in a statement that the agency needs extra funds and supplies immediately to help stave off major outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, malaria and other infectious diseases across the region.
In the province of North Darfur, an outbreak of shigellosis, a bacterial infection characterised by painful diarrhoea, has struck at least 40,000 people since mid-May. WHO said there have been at least 11 confirmed deaths.
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