For the first time, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is sending United States food assistance through Libya along a 2,800-kilometre-long humanitarian corridor across the Sahara desert to reach nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad.
"This is by far the biggest WFP shipment through Libya to Chad," WFP Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East Mohamed Diab told a news conference today in the Libyan city of Al Kufra on the edge of the Sahara. "A one kilometre-long convoy of trucks is an impressive sight, and we are very grateful to the Libyan authorities for allowing us to use this corridor."
"The human tragedy unfolding in Darfur and eastern Chad over the past several months has compelled us to respond," Tony Hall, the US Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture, said of the conflict in Sudan's vast western region where about 1.7 million people have been displaced and Janjaweed militias stand accused of killing and raping thousands of villagers after rebel groups took up arms last year in demand for a greater share of economic resources.
"This donation will go a substantial way to relieving the suffering of the thousands of people who have been forced not only out of their homes, but out of their country," Mr. Hall added.
The Libyan Government and WFP reached a landmark agreement in August on the corridor, an ancient trading route, guaranteeing safe passage of food aid and other humanitarian supplies through Libya to Chad by air, water and road.
Although the rainy season in Chad is over, limited infrastructure and insecurity in one of the remotest regions in the world have made it hard for WFP to move large amounts of food by road to the refugee camps. The corridor through Libya is a vital link for WFP to dramatically increase the amount it can deliver at a substantially reduced cost.
Donated by the US Government, the food includes sorghum, cornmeal, lentils, vegetable oil and corn-soya blend, allowing WFP to provide the 200,000 refugees with almost all the commodities needed for their daily diet over a two-month period.
Its arrival is particularly welcome because conflict in eastern Chad between refugees and the local population has intensified recently. Although Chadians have shown a remarkable willingness to share what they have with the refugees, fights over access to scarce resources such as water and firewood have resulted in deaths.
WFP has so far received just over $50 million of the $71 million needed for its operations in east Chad until February, leaving a shortfall of just under 30 per cent.