The United Nations and aid agencies are calling for the re-opening of the humanitarian corridor between Cameroon and Chad to allow vital help to reach hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees and internally displaced people in eastern Chad. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.
The United Nations and private aid agencies established a humanitarian corridor running from Cameroon to eastern Chad several years ago. But recent fighting between forces loyal to Chadian President Idriss Deby and rebel groups in the capital N'Djamena has disrupted that route. The corridor is now closed.
World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume tells VOA it is critical that the humanitarian corridor be re-opened as quickly as possible.
"Because we need absolutely to pre-position food before the rainy season starts and it starts in June and it lasts for five months," she said. "And, the rainy season in the eastern part of Chad is so bad that it cuts this area from the rest of the country. There is no way we can bring food by road. The road is totally flooded."
The United Nations and international aid agencies are caring for some 240,000 Sudanese refugees from the conflict-ridden province of Darfur. They are also assisting 180,000 people from Chad who were forced to flee their homes when their villages came under attack by various rebel groups.
Berthiaume says, so far, the situation is under control. She says WFP has 12,000 tons of food inside Chad. And the agency completed its January food distributions for the refugees and internally displaced before the conflict in N'Djamena started.
She says aid workers have finished distributing February's food rations to refugees in three of the 12 camps in eastern Chad. And, they are in the process of completing this operation.
But Berthiaume says the situation is very fragile.
"So obviously, any delay in the transport of food is a problem for the future for us," she said. "So we need that corridor to open as quickly as possible. For WFP, the best way is to bring food by convoys, by trucks. To airlift food, it costs a lot of money. And you never can bring as much food by plane as you can in a convoy."
The UN refugee agency, which oversees operations in eastern Chad, urges a swift re-opening of the road connecting Cameroon with Chad. Barring that, it says a humanitarian air corridor must be set up between the eastern town of Abeche and the capital N'Djamena and the region.
It says this is needed to guarantee the smooth running of its operations and to avoid supply shortages in the east.