14 June 2007 The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced the launch of an operation to airlift emergency food supplies to over 2,600 Sudanese refugees who recently crossed into the the Central African Republic (CAR).
“Airlifts are an expensive last resort, but we have no other option,” said WFP CAR Country Director Jean-Charles Dei. “These people are in one of the least accessible regions in the world, but they need help now.”
The refugees come from Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million others forced to flee since fighting broke out in 2003. Mr. Dei put this in the broader geographical context, saying the recent outflow of refugees to the CAR “is just the latest example of how the conflict in Darfur is having a destabilizing effect across the region.”
Their living conditions near the CAR town of Sam Ouandja are very poor and deteriorating fast, according to WFP, which said people were surviving on little more than mangoes and limited supplies of manioc. Most have no shelter and there is no access to safe drinking water.
A plane loaded with 15 metric tons of high-energy biscuits at WFP’s Humanitarian Response Depot in Accra, Ghana is due in the CAR capital Bangui today, where the supplies will be transhipped onto a smaller plane and flown east to Bria in two rotations. There the biscuits will be transferred a final time for the flight to Sam Ouandja, which will require a further four rotations.
WFP has already dispatched 35 tons of food to north-eastern CAR by road. The 12-truck convoy is also carrying seeds and agricultural equipment, water purification tablets and other emergency supplies from partner UN agencies.
But the onset of the rainy season and the extremely poor road network means the trucks will take as long as ten days to reach their destination, said the agency, which is making plans for a second convoy in the coming days.
Complicating the effort are attacks on aid personnel, including most recently the killing of a Médecins sans Frontières worker near Paoua which led to the temporary suspension of humanitarian work in the area.
“It’s hard enough getting vital supplies through without having to worry for our physical safety. If the situation gets any worse there could be disastrous consequences for people who need our help most,” said Mr. Dei.
WFP said it is still short $16 million for its operation in CAR.