Food situation remains precarious in the south, WFP warns

The food-security situation in south Sudan - particularly Northern Bahr El Ghazal - remains fragile, as malnutrition rates during an already bad hunger season seem to be further deteriorating and the prospects for the next harvest look bleak, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned.

"Although we don't have the definite figures yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that the numbers [of children admitted to supplementary feeding centres] continued to grow in August," said Simon Crittle, WFP spokesman for southern Sudan, on Thursday.

"Ideally, numbers level off towards the end of the hunger season in August/September, but this year they seem to be going up," he added.

Statistics provided by NGOs working in Northern Bahr El Ghazal showed that during the month of July more than 8,500 children at feeding centres were malnourished, with 1,100 diagnosed as severely malnourished.

In late August, the NGO Action Contre la Faim reported an increase in severe malnutrition in therapeutic feeding centres in Wau, Western Bahr El Ghazal, despite the regular food aid distributions provided since April.

Penny Ferguson, spokeswoman for WFP in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, explained on Wednesday that the increase in malnutrition rates was due to the heavy rains in the south during this time of year, which caused an increase in malaria and diarrhoea.

"If a child gets a severe case of diarrhoea from a waterborne disease, even with regular food aid, the diarrhoea will cause malnutrition to set in,"
Ferguson said.

An additional worry was that this year's harvest might turn out to be below average, due to poor rains in June and July.

"We are concerned that we may see another bad harvest this year," Crittle cautioned.

"There was a late burst of rain in August, but it might have been too late.
A lot of sorghum in the fields is already turning yellow, which means it is dying and won't reach maturity," he added.

A shortage of JetA1 fuel exacerbated the already fragile food situation as it hampered the supply of adequate amounts of food to the people of the regions of Northern and Western Bahr El Ghazal, Nuba Mountains and Upper Nile.

"Because of the heavy rains in the south and lack of adequate road systems, we have had to rely on food drops by air," Ferguson said.

The shortage of fuel allowed for only 1,678 tonnes of the initially planned
11,692 tonnes to be delivered in the month of August.

Ferguson noted that the closing down of the Khartoum refinery – the only refinery that supplies JetA1 fuel in Sudan – for maintenance in July, as well as slow deliveries of fuel, a shortage of tankers and a high demand for fuel had contributed to the shortages.

"This is a tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people," said WFP Country Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva in statement on Tuesday. "Supplies of JetA1 were short even before the refinery closure. That pushed us over the edge.
We tried everything we could to get sufficient supplies in time, but the demand was simply too great."

Ferguson noted that another concern was the 41 percent shortfall in funding needed for the emergency feeding of 3.2 million people living in the south, east and transitional areas.

Security concerns and access restrictions also had prevented aid agencies from reaching those in need of food aid, WFP noted in a statement, while the influx of internally displaced persons returning to the south following the end of Sudan's 21-year civil war would increase demands for food assistance.

"The south needs a well-supported peace to recover from two decades of war.

The way to do that is through donors assisting the authorities to build its capacity, institutions and administrations in the south," Ferguson added.