An experimental convoy of trucks carrying food aid from Libya to the Sudanese refugee camps in eastern Chad has arrived safely following a gruelling 2,800 km journey across the Sahara desert, the UN World Food Progamme (WFP) said.
WFP said in a statement that the convoy of 20 trucks carrying 440 tonnes of wheat flour donated by Switzerland arrived in Bahai, near the border with Sudan's troubled Darfur province, on Wednesday night after a 24-day journey from the Mediterranean port of Benghazi.
The food - enough to feed 30,000 people for a month - was distributed to the nearby refugee camps the following day, it added.
"With this trip we have shown that the Libyan corridor is a feasible route to reach Sudanese refugees here who need frood from WFP. It saves both distance and time," said convoy leader Jacobus Saenen. "It's long, but it also has a big advantage during the rainy season because it is dry."
The most difficult part of the trip was a 1,700 km stretch along dirt and sand tracks from the oasis of Al Khofra in southern Libya to Bahai. WFP said that with daytime temperatures rising up to 45 degrees celsius, the trucks were forced to travel during the early morning and at night, resting during the heat of the day.
On average they covered 135 km per day. However, at one point the convoy was held up for 36 hours by a major breakdown. Each truck carried a driver and a mechanic.
For most of the journey the convoy was accompanied by a military escort to protect it from attack by bandits. But at one point, as it crossed from Libya to Chad, it had to drive unescorted for four days through the baking desert.
Tyre punctures and getting stuck in the sand were major problems, but the trucks suffered only two major engine problems; a broken gear box and a broken fan that damaged the radiator.
WFP said the new trans-Sahara route would allow it to move several hundred tonnes of food per month to the camps in eastern Chad holding nearly 200,000 refugees from the conflict in Darfur.
The normal overland supply route from the Atlantic port of Douala in Cameroon has been interrupted since July as a result of the rainy season in West Africa which has made most roads in Chad impassable. They are expected to reopen again in October.
A WFP spokeswoman in Rome said the next convoy from Libya to eastern Chad would probably leave in October. "It depends on when the next shipment of food arrives in Benghazi," she said.
Food stocks at the nine refugee camps are running quite low. In recent weeks, French military transport planes and helicopters have airlifted additional supplies into some of them.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions