A rash of banditry is threatening food supplies to internally-displaced people in the conflict-torn western Sudanese region of Darfur, raising the possibility that rations will have to be cut, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said Wednesday.
So far this year, bandits have stolen 22 WFP-contracted trucks and abducted their drivers, the world aid organization said in a statement, noting that 18 drivers were still missing.
"We're extremely worried about the impact on the vulnerable people of Darfur," said WFP Representative Kenro Oshidari, adding that WFP was also concerned about the fate of the missing drivers.
"Our main trucking companies now refuse to send in more vehicles because of this upsurge in banditry and therefore we have no one to deliver about half our monthly food relief requirement. If the situation continues, we'll be forced to cut rations in parts of Darfur by mid-February," Oshidari said.
Attacks on trucks carrying WFP supplies, abductions of drivers and trucks, looting of WFP supplies and drivers' personal property and beatings of WFP-contracted drivers to intimidate them have increased in recent months.
The WFP urged the Sudanese authorities to ensure the safety of main routes in Darfur.
From September to December 2007 a total of 13 WFP contract trucks were stolen or attacked. Of these, three drivers were killed, three others escaped and a further 7 drivers were released. All but three of the trucks have been recovered.
In December, the WFP fed 2.1 million conflict-affected people in Darfur, most of them internally-displaced people in camps, according to the organization.
The transport companies currently refuse to send their trucks back into Darfur, which normally deliver between 15,000 and 20,000 tons per month.
"Without these deliveries, WFP faces a rapid depletion of stocks and the inability to pre-position food ahead of the rainy season, which is due to start in May," Oshidari said.
The WFP is working out what form ration cuts might take, where, and how many people would be affected if the banditry continues.
In 2008, the WFP plans to feed up to 5.6 million people in Sudan on a budget of 697 million US dollars.
The monthly food ration in Darfur includes cereals, high-nutrition corn-soya blend, pulses, vegetable oil, sugar and salt and provides a total of 2,100 kilocalories per person per day.
(Xinhua News Agency January 24, 2008)