The World Food Program is increasing its food shipments to Sudan's troubled Darfur region, and hopes to soon reach almost all of the more than one million people displaced by fighting. The Sudanese government has promised to ease restrictions on humanitarian aid workers in the region.
The World Food Program estimates that, by the end of June, it had reached 700,000 of the 1.2 million people in Darfur in need of assistance. The agency is intensifying its activities, in order to reach the remaining half million people in need in the next two months.
"We are, at the moment, looking to get 18,000 metric tons of food into Darfur next month," said Marcus Prior, spokesman for the WFP, an agency of the United Nations. "Now, to give you some idea, that's the rough equivalent, let's say, of three football fields piled seven-to-eight meters high with food. Seven- to 8,000 of that would be by trucks, the same again by air, and we're ramping up [increasing] the air operation all the time."
Darfur, along the Chad border, is one of the remotest parts of the world. Mr. Prior says simply getting food there calls for a massive logistical effort.
"If you consider that a truck, which is loaded in Port Sudan takes three weeks essentially to get to Darfur, it has to cross a region the size of Western Europe and on roads that are, certainly towards the end, absolutely appalling," he said. "We've already had reports of trucks having difficulty crossing rivers, which are flash-flooded in the desert."
The Sudanese government reiterated its pledge to lift restrictions on aid groups operating in Darfur, after visits last week by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who threatened international intervention, if nothing is done to ease the crisis.
More than one million people in Darfur had to flee their homes following a wave of violence by "janjaweed" militias. Human rights groups charge that the predominantly Arab government has used the militias to attack ethnic-African civilian populations, as a means of putting down a rebellion. The government denies the charges.
There are now about 137 camps for displaced people in Darfur, plus several refugee camps over the border in Chad. Many of those in the camps say they want to go home as soon as it is safe to do so.
But Mr. Prior says many refugees may have to stay where they are until the next planting season.
"If you consider the fact that their tools have been looted, their animals that they use for ploughing have been looted, as well," he added. "If they had any animals, they'd probably have to train them, because they won't be trained for ploughing. They have had their seeds taken, and they haven't been able to prepare their land yet, and the rain's already falling. So, it would seem, yes, absolutely, that, even if they were to go back now, they would really struggle to harvest anything before the end of the year."
Other problems plague the refugees in camps. Lack of sanitation, coupled with the onset of the rainy season, means there is a greater risk of diseases, such as malaria, typhoid and dysentery.