The World Food Program is appealing for $64 million to clear landmines and repair roads in southern Sudan. The WFP says this project would greatly facilitate the delivery of food to millions of people in the war-ravaged region.
The government of Sudan in the north and rebels in the South are expected to sign a peace agreement this month, ending more than two decades of civil war.
A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Christiane Berthiaume, says between half and one million displaced people and refugees are likely to return to southern Sudan, if the peace deal goes through. But she says it is too dangerous for people to return home on southern Sudan's roads. Ms. Berthiaume says the WFP urgently needs $64 million to repair and de-mine nearly 2,000 kilometers of roads in this area.
"First, for people to go back home safely," she said. "Also, this will help the economy of the region, when there is going to be trade and commercial traffic, activities. And, also for us it is important because, if, at last, we can have roads, we will be able to bring food aid by road, instead of air-dropping food, as we do right now, because there are no roads, and it costs so much money. So, this is really very important."
Sudan is a huge country. Southern Sudan alone comprises an expanse of 650,000 square kilometers, a territory as big as Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Yet, it has less than 20,000 kilometers of road and only a few of these roads are paved.
WFP began this road mine-clearance project in October, but was forced to stop the operation when funds ran out. Ms. Berthiaume says work on the roads can only be done during the dry season. She says, it has to be completed before the rains begin in May.
"You cannot repair roads during that time," she said. "And, again, if there is a peace agreement signed at the end of December, people will want to go back before the rainy season, before May. So, it is really very urgent. If we want to help this part of Sudan to stabilize, and if we want to contribute to the peace agreement, I think it would be a wise investment to invest in the infrastructure."
Right now, the WFP feeds two million people living in areas controlled by both the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army. Ms. Berthiaume says her agency expects this number to increase to three million next year, due to drought and expected returns.