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Aid Agency: Emergency Funds Needed in Chad for Darfur Refugees

Children await arrival of South Darfur state governer, Al-Haj Atalmannan Idris and Norwegian Minister for International Cooperation and Human Rights, Helda Johnson in Nyala
A U.N. aid agency in eastern Chad that is helping refugees from Sudan's Darfur region is warning of a possible deterioration of the humanitarian situation there. These new worries come amid fears the conflict could spread to the Chadian-Sudanese border region.

The World Food Program is asking donors for $87 million for Darfur refugees living along Chad's eastern border with Sudan. It says at least $14 million is needed immediately.

The WFP says the money is needed to pre-position food supplies in 11 camps currently containing around 150,000 refugees ahead of the regions rainy season.

A World Food Program spokesman, Marcus Prior, says though the organization is pleased with the contributions of donors so far, ensuring financial support for the next few weeks and months is crucial.

"Well, we're dealing [with] a matter of weeks. The rains would normally start in the southern section, where some of the camps are, around the end of June," he said. "But the most tricky months for us would most definitely be July through September. Those three months, much of the infrastructure, as it is in eastern Chad, becomes all but unusable. And we have to make sure that we have enough food for as many as two hundred thousand refugees."

Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled fighting between the army, militias and rebels in Sudan's Darfur region have gone to Chad, which has itself suffered from poor harvests this year.

The World Food Program also plans to provide food for about 150,000 struggling Chadians.

Meanwhile, Chad's recent claims that Sudan is trying to destabilize its own government are raising fears of an expansion of the Darfur conflict, a prospect, Mr. Prior says, would have dire consequences for aid efforts.

"We will just have to hope that that is not the case," he said. "People, both refugees and the local population, are living in extremely difficult circumstances in a part of the world that has a fragile environment even in a very good year. So, any kind of destabilization of eastern Chad, on a military or conflict level, would just make our job that much harder."

This week, Chad's government suspended mediation efforts it has been carrying out for Darfur, after making accusations that Sudan is arming a Chadian rebel group just across its eastern border.

Sudanese officials said Tuesday that they had not yet been informed officially of the suspension but they had heard about in the media. They said they hoped Chad would reverse its decision.