6 December 2012

Africa: Donations Crucial for Hunger Emergency in South Sudan and Eastern DRC

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has said it needs $26 million to feed hungry and displaced people in South Sudan and revealed that its air operation to drop food to refugees "is still facing huge financial shortfalls".

The WFP is operating a complicated and dangerous relief mission in South Sudan in an attempt to combat various humanitarian problems. South Sudan, which gained independence in July 2011, has long suffered from conflict, poverty and poor infrastructure. This situation was exacerbated at the start of 2012 when ongoing disputes with Sudan led South Sudan to suspend oil production, which had been responsible for 98% of government revenue. Conflict along the northern border regions over contested territories is also ongoing.

Following an agreement over the cost of transiting oil through Sudan, South Sudan is hoping to restart oil production by the end of 2012, but its humanitarian problems continue. And it is crucial aid agencies act now.

The pre-positioning of food is crucial in South Sudan because of the rainy season starting in April, which makes the poor roads impassable. Since it can take four months for food to arrive and be pre-positioned within South Sudan, it is critical the donations arrive as soon as possible. Planning ahead is crucial to prevent malnutrition from escalating.

The WFP says about 5,000 truckloads of food need to be transported inside South Sudan early next year to carry out the pre-positioning of food. Just 500 trucks have so far begun the journey.

The WFP is also currently feeding refugees in Yida who have fled the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, and there are constantly new arrivals to this refugee camp. Over 4,000 small children in the camp are currently receiving Plumpy'Sup - a special life-saving peanut paste - to treat their malnutrition.

Over 100,000 refugees from the conflict in Abyei received 30-day rations of food during the WFP's last reported distribution, while internally-displaced persons in Jonglei and other parts of South Sudan also received rations.

The United Nations warns that conflict as well as damage from flooding will likely cause hunger to escalate in parts of Jonglei, Lakes and Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal states. The UN also says "humanitarian partners are planning to provide food assistance to 2.3 million people in 2013". This will require considerable funding which is urgently needed if aid is reach those in need in time.

Funding needed as crisis escalates in eastern DRC

The WFP has also announced that additional funding is desperately needed to feed thousands of displaced persons in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is estimated that 550,000 people have been displaced by conflict in the region since April.

Around $130 million dollars is needed by the WFP to fund programs throughout the war-torn country. Food distributions are ongoing to 160,000 people around the town of Goma. In other areas, the WFP simply does not have the resources to provide the needed aid.

The WFP says it currently has "low levels of food stocks" in the DRC and some of its regular programs, such as school feeding, have already faced ration cuts. The conflict is also making it much more difficult for humanitarian aid to be delivered. On December 1, there was an attack on one of the camps near Goma.

The fighting also disrupts farmers trying to grow their crops. The disruption of agriculture escalates the hunger crisis and this can persist long after fighting may have left a particular area.

Meanwhile, potential budget cuts by Congress to the US Food for Peace programme will lessen its ability to respond to the hunger emergency in the DRC and elsewhere. Food for Peace is the single biggest supporter of the World Food Programme.

William Lambers is the author of Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. His other books include The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, The Road to Peace and The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger.

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