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Food Crisis Threatened in Sudan, UN Says - 2002-05-22

U.N. humanitarian agencies are warning that a food shortage in southern Sudan may soon lead to a humanitarian crisis that could affect millions of people. The agencies say their requests for financial aid are not being answered.

The World Food Program said it has received only 30 percent of the $140 million it needs to feed nearly three million people in Southern Sudan.

The U.N. children's agency has said it, too, is facing a serious lack of funding for its programs in southern Sudan, and as a consequence it cannot carry out many of its activities.

The agency said it has received only $8 million of the $24 million it needs to provide health and education to the region's children. One of its most important projects, a program to prevent the abduction of southern Sudanese women and children, has not received a single penny this year.

The head of UNICEF's operations in southern Sudan, Sharad Sapra, said the agency's biggest concern is the fate of one million people living in the Western Upper Nile Valley. Mr. Sapra said these people have been cut of from any aid for months.

"These are areas around the oil belts where we do not have access for quite a few months. And some parts we do not have access for the last two years. But there are reports coming out and some of the other organizations working have reported a possibility of a serious humanitarian crisis building up which could be as severe in its magnitude as the 1998 crisis," Mr. Sapra said.

Four years ago, 100,000 people died when both the Sudanese government and Southern rebels refused to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver supplies.

Masood Hyder directs the World Food Program in the Sudan. He said that while aid groups are fearful of a potential humanitarian crisis in the Western Upper Nile Valley, there are some promising signs in the Nuba Mountains. That region has long been a battleground between government forces and rebels of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, the SPLA.

"Wednesday food aid airdrops started, airdrops commenced in the SPLA side and simultaneously with that on the government side delivery by road started," Mr. Hyder said.

The humanitarian agencies also have said another positive development in Sudan is the continued demobilization of child soldiers. UNICEF has now disarmed 8,000 out of an estimated 12,000 child soldiers and is working to re-unite the children with their families.

Sudan is Africa's largest country. For the past 19 years it has been racked by a civil war that pits the mainly Muslim government against mostly Christian rebels based in the south.