MSF calls on States to take emergency action to prevent a nutritional disaster

By Henry Neondo

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has expressed concern over decision by the World Food Program (WFP) to reduce food rations for the displaced population living in Darfur.

On the 28th of April 2006, the WFP announced that because of inadequate funds, it could supply only a half-ration of vital food rations - 1,050 kilocalories per person per day instead of 2,100 - to the 2.1 million people who need emergency food aid in Darfur.

The WFP distributions represent virtually the only survival resources available to the displaced persons in Darfur.

Crowded into unhealthy camps, they cannot farm because of the widespread insecurity in the nearby bush.

Over the last year, temporary breakdowns in the food distribution system have always led to significant increases in the number of cases of severe malnutrition treated in MSF's health centers.

In 2005, the WFP managed to head off a nutritional disaster by distributing more than 40,000 tons of food/month to more than 2 million people spread more than 400 sites.

This operational success now faces a serious threat as a result of the international community's refusal to respond to the WFP's funding appeals. As of late February, the agency had received only 4 percent of the money required to continue its operations in Sudan.

The Sudanese and US governments did promise additional aid after a peace agreement among some of the warring parties was signed on May 5. (Forty-six percent of the funds requested by the WFP were promised on May 16.) However, the WFP says that it will be unable to resume full distributions before November, given the timelines for transporting the food.

A serious nutritional crisis thus threatens the displaced persons in Darfur. The threat is worsened as other vital services, like drinking water supplies and hospital support, are also affected by budget cuts.

"Flagging donor mobilization is particularly difficult to understand, given that the status of the displaced has worsened since last year," said Fabrice Weissman, MSF head of mission in Darfur. "In fact, the international community is behaving as if it had decided that providing vital aid to the Darfur populations would depend on the signing of a peace agreement among the warring parties" he added.

With the rainy season and the lean months approaching -- both of which represent an additional nutritional risk -- it is critical that States provide immediate funding for the WFP and other vital services and release special funds so that food aid can be transported on a urgent basis (by air, if necessary) to distribution sites. To avoid a disaster, the displaced persons in Darfur must receive full rations as soon as possible.

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