A third consignment of relief supplies for Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad has been delivered by trucks travelling across the Sahara desert from ports on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said the eight-truck convoy bringing tents, blankets, sleeping mats, cooking oil and sugar, arrived in the Chadian town of Abeche earlier this week after a two-week journey from the Libyan capital Tripoli.
The aid shipment was sent by the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Association (GIFCA), a charity linked to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. This organisation pioneered the trans-Sahara route, which includes over 1,000 km of unmarked desert tracks, by sending two trucks to blaze the trail in June.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) subsequently sent a trial convoy carrying 440 tonnes of wheat flour along the same route from the Libyan port of Benghazi in August.
Robert Gillenwater, the WFP logistics coordinator in Chad, told IRIN by telephone from the capital N'djamena that WFP would send several more convoys across the Sahara in the coming weeks.
"Three more ships are heading towards Benghazi and the first carrying 342 tonnes of sugar will arrive on 21 October," Gillenwater said. "The second, carrying 1,430 tonnes of corn soya blend will arrive on 29 October and the third… will arrive on 30 October."
This third ship would be carrying 6,000 tonnes of assorted foodstuffs for eastern Chad, Gillenwater said.
He noted that the cost of trucking food 2,800 km across the Sahara to landlocked Chad was similar to that of transporting supplies along the traditional supply route from the Cameroonian port of Douala.
This southern route, which is closed for much of the June-October rainy season, involves a rail journey from Douala to Ngaoundere in northern Cameroon, from where the food is loaded onto trucks for the final km 1,600 road journey to the Sudan frontier.
"Both corridors cost more or less the same and the desert option can always be used to supply the northern camps because it reduces the distance and does not require transhipment," Gillenwater said.
He also noted that having two different routes available to supply the 200,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur conflict in eastern Chad, gave humanitarian organisations greater flexibility to deal with problems such as road closures and port congestion.
The main road from N'djamena to Abeche in eastern Chad is still closed as a result of the rainy season, which is now coming to an end. Gillenwater said he hoped it would reopen later this month.
WFP planned to truck about 10,000 tonnes of food across the Sahara to the refugee camps by the end of this year and a further 8,000 tonnes from Douala, he said.