The United Nations World Food Program says increasing banditry in Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region is endangering its ability to feed up to three million people there. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.
Fighting between Sudanese-backed militia and rebel groups continue to kill and displace many people in Darfur. The insecurity generated from the ongoing conflict continues to hamper the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
But, the World Food Program says it is the rising banditry in the region that most threatens its ability to distribute food to millions of homeless people in Darfur. WFP spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, tells VOA 26 trucks have been stolen and 15 drivers abducted since the beginning of the year.
"Every week, we have to face these kinds of events where the trucks are stopped by roadblocks - people, bandits, armed people who ask for money - take the trucks, take sometimes also the drivers," she said. "It has been going on for many months now. Often the drivers are sent back and sometimes the food is stolen. Sometimes they even attack trucks without any food because they take the trucks."
The World Food Program's food distribution operation in Darfur is huge. The agency estimates more than three million people are fed through its programs, depending on the season.
In order to maintain the program, it has to bring in 40,000 tons of food every month. Berthiaume says it takes 1,400 trucks to carry the food from the port of entry to the warehouses to the beneficiaries.
She says delivering food in Darfur is difficult even in the best of times. Berthiaume says the trucks have to traverse 3,000 kilometers of largely bad roads.
She says the period between January and May is very crucial and WFP is worried by the increasing risks.
"We need to pre-position food before the start of the rainy season," said Berthiaume. "We are doing it right now. But again, if the insecurity prevails, if those attacks prevail, we are indeed running the risk that the drivers and the company might be afraid and might decide that they will slow down. So, we need more security on those roads and it is not easy to get it."
Berthiaume says the World Food Program may have to resort to airdrops if road transport becomes impossible. But, she says, airdropping food is very expensive and planes are not able to carry the same large quantity of food that trucks can.