Some 90,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees living in eastern Sudan could go hungry unless more money is found to fill a 47-percent funding gap in a feeding programme for them, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
"Food distributions to the refugees are in real danger of being scaled down or even interrupted because of the lack of funds, and because we are battling to feed more refugees than were expected to remain in Sudan at this time," Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the WFP country director for Sudan, said in a statement.
The agency said more than halfway through its two-year operation to feed the Eritrean and Ethiopian refugee populations living in eastern and southeastern Sudan, it had received US $9.4 million of the required $17.7 million. It added that it was feeding almost 50 percent more refugees than expected because concerns about general conditions in their homelands meant many refugees had decided not to return home.
The refugees are living in 12 camps in Kassala, Gezira, Sinnar and Gedaref states in eastern and southeastern Sudan. WFP said they faced competition for wage labour from local residents and internally displaced people, and few had access to land for farming. It said the large proportion of families headed by women were particularly vulnerable because social and cultural factors limited their access to food and sources of income.
The agency said it had distributed some 16 tonnes to 3,908 people in July through supplementary feeding programmes run by partner NGOs, while the government of Sudan had distributed 1,880 tonnes of food to 84,498 people.
"Chronic funding shortages, insecurity in the region at times curtailing access as well as problems in contracting enough trucks to carry food aid from Port Sudan to the camps have hampered WFP's efforts to maintain consistent supplies of food assistance to the refugees," it said.
WFP said a joint nutritional survey conducted in April in eastern Sudan's Um Gargour refugee camp had found a 12.7 percent global acute malnutrition rate among children less than five years old.
"We need the world’s support to keep feeding," Lopes da Silva said. "We need to feed these families, which have no one else to help them, and nowhere else to go."
Meanwhile, on Friday, WFP handed over an airport, upgraded at a cost of $1.6 million, to the local government in the provisional southern Sudanese capital of Rumbek in a bid to improve access to the south.
WFP said it built a 1.8-kilometre runway at Rumbek, beside the existing airstrip which is now being used as a taxiway. It also built an air traffic control tower.
The airport rehabilitation was part of WFP's special operation for emergency road repairs and mine clearance of key transport routes in southern Sudan from August 2003 to December 2006.
The agency said it planned to deliver emergency food aid to 3.2 million people in southern, eastern and transitional areas of Sudan at a cost of more than $300 million in 2005, but faced a funding shortfall of 41 percent that was severely hampering the provision of desperately needed food at the height of the current "hunger" season.