The World Food Program says its food deliveries in Darfur have been cut in half by widespread banditry. There’s been a surge in truck hijackings, as the WFP tries to bring in food before the rainy season.
Emilia Casella is a spokesperson for the World Food Program. From Khartoum, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the security problems.
“It’s quite serious. We’re reaching a situation where we’re almost at daily banditry, certainly weekly…. Our passenger vehicles are getting snatched, as well as, and more seriously actually, our contract trucking firms are facing a very high level of banditry on the roads going in and out of Darfur. So far this year, we’ve had 45 trucks involved in hijacking incidents in Darfur and 37 trucks are still missing and very worryingly, 23 drivers are unaccounted for,” she says.
Casella says the government does provide some security along the main roads for convoys, but that’s not where most of the hijackings occur. She says, “The difficulty really is that we’re moving upwards of 800 trucks in and out of Darfur all the time. It’s a constant flow because we’re moving enough food to feed upwards of two million people or more, depending on the month. You can’t guard every truck on every road all the time.”
The banditry has taken a severe toll on food distribution. “At this time of year, we should be moving about 2,000 metric tons a day. Right now, we’re down to about half of that, about 1,000 metric tons a day. And maybe to put that into context, basically it’s a period when we’re headed toward the rainy season. We’ve got to move a lot of food into Darfur before the roads get too muddy and we have to pre-position it there. What we’re doing is we’re providing monthly food rations to between two and three million people a month. And in order to maintain that flow, we really can’t slow down,” she says.
The WFP says current food stocks in Darfur could last up to two months.
The World Food Program, other UN agencies and NGOs are also seriously concerned about the status of the UN humanitarian air service, which could shut down at the end of the month.
“It’s really quite surprising and alarming. So far this year, the humanitarian air service has received no committed funding. WFP manages and operates the fixed wing aircraft and the helicopters that serve the entire humanitarian community, not only in Darfur, but all over Sudan. What that means is that we’ve got about 8,000 humanitarian workers traveling every month on aircraft in Darfur. We’re thinking of grounding the airline at the end of March if we don’t get more donations, or any donations, because we’re basically out of cash,” she says. Casella says it can cost $4,000 dollars an hour to operate a helicopter.