WFP back helping war-affected in Raga

The World Food Programme (WFP) has announced that it is planning to carry out a series of food deliveries to assist war-affected people in Raga, a strategic town in western Bahr al-Ghazal, southern Sudan, which government troops seized from the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in mid-October 2001.

Laura Melo, a WFP spokeswoman, told IRIN on Wednesday that most of the people to be assisted in Raga were internally displaced persons (IDPs) - some of them returning to Raga after their dispersal in the bush - whose nutritional condition was fragile after spending months in forests and villages, where they had survived on wild fruits, vegetables and game meat during heavy fighting in and around Raga.

"Most of them are still in bad shape. They have no food. And even when there is food, they cannot afford it," Melo said. "WFP is planning to continue to provide food to the IDPs and returnees to the town until conditions improve."

The Khartoum Monitor newspaper reported in Sudan on 27 March that WFP had completed its first food distribution assistance to the war-affected people in the town five days earlier. This was the first food delivery to help re-establish the population in Raga since the government recaptured it, the report said.

Melo said that, although the initial food distribution had targeted 8,134 people, WFP was expecting that number to increase as more people returned to the town. The agency was planning to begin its second food distribution in the second week of April, since the initial rations had only been sufficient for 15 days, she added.

"For the time being, we don't know when conditions will improve. More returnees are still expected. At the time they were displaced, many of them missed their harvests and are in dire need of nutritional support," she told IRIN.

Humanitarian agencies have expressed concern about the repeated displacement of civilians in and around Raga since an SPLA offensive in May/June 2001 in which it captured Raga.

More than 30,000 IDPs fled northwards from Raga County after SPLA troops seized the town from government forces. Many of them lived and slept in the open air with little food or shelter as they made the march north, until aid agencies put arrangements in place to provide food, shelter and medical attention.

The situation changed again when the government - which had blamed the rebel SPLA for creating the Raga IDP crisis through its military offensive and obstruction of flight paths to western Bahr al-Ghazal - recaptured Raga, Mangayath, Sopo, Deim Zubeir (Daym Zubayr), Yabulu and Boro in October, in an offensive which sparked another rush of tens of thousands of IDPs.

Government forces conducted a lengthy "mopping-up operation" in Raga County after seizing these key towns, during which relief flights and humanitarian operations were severely limited, according to aid officials.

WFP in October expressed "grave concern" after two days of heavy bombing of the village of Mangayath, just southeast of Raga, "directly into the area where WFP teams were in the process of distributing relief food to some 20,000 civilians" displaced by the Raga fighting.

The presence of IDPs from Raga County has been noted in Ed Daein (Al-Duwaym), Radom and Buram, in Southern Darfur; southeast of Raga in Awoda, Wau County, Bahr al-Ghazal; in Aweil West and North, in northern Bahr al-Ghazal; and in Tambura County, to the south, in Western Equatoria.

The IDP situation in Sudan - which has the biggest displaced population in the world, at an estimated four million - had in 2001 as a result of the escalated fighting around Raga, as well as violent conflict in the Nuba Mountains (Southern Kordofan), Upper Nile, Eastern Equatoria, and southern Blue Nile, the Norwegian Refugee Council reported in a briefing paper on 26 March 2002.