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WFP Reaches Agreement With Sudan Rebels on Food Aid - 2004-08-14

The World Food Program says it has reached an agreement with two rebel groups in Sudan's troubled Darfur region to give the agency access to areas under their control, so the WFP can assess food needs at camps for internally displaced people.

An estimated 1.2 million internally displaced people are living in 153 camps in Darfur. A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Christiane Berthiaume, says her agency has been able to get access to 119 of these.

She says fighters claiming to be rebels have held up United Nations food trucks in recent weeks. And those that are not attacked are subjected to bureaucratic and other delays by members of the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement.

"So, we hope that, with this agreement, we will have access to more people in need," she said. "We have already made an assessment in one of these places. It is in rural Kutum, where we found 13,000 people in need of food aid, and we hope to be able to do more of these kinds of assessments, because, as you can imagine, before bringing food into a camp, we have to go see what are the needs."

Ms. Berthiaume says the agreement will allow WFP to start registering people in the camps and to evaluate their needs. She says it is important to know how much food is needed, and what kind. For example, she explains, malnourished people require special high-protein food.

She says registering people is also important, because it is a way of making sure that the right people get the food.

"And also for us, the registration is important because that will tell us how much, what amount of food you need to bring into a camp," she added. "We cannot take the risk of not bringing enough food into a camp. Because, can you imagine if we do not bring enough food the riots that could occur because we would not have enough for everybody."

It is raining heavily in Darfur. Many roads are impassable. Over the past two weeks, the World Food Program has airdropped nearly 1000 tons of food to areas that are completely cut off from road traffic.

If the agreement with the rebel groups is honored, Ms. Berthiaume says, aid workers should be able to reach their target of feeding 1.2 million hungry people this month.

This, she says, would bode well for deliveries in the coming months. She says the number of people who will need food assistance by October is expected to increase to two million.