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Moving the aid spotlight west

[Chad] Truck in WFP convoy carrying food across the Sahara desert from Libya to refugee camps in eastern Chad in 2004.

Eastern Chad is well known as one of the most challenging settings for emergency relief in the world due to the spillover from Sudan’s Darfur conflict and internal strife, but far less attention is being focused on western regions where 1.6 million people are facing crop failure and food shortages ahead of the October harvest, according to WFP and the government.

Food prices in the west are at least 35 percent higher than the five-year average, according to the US Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), and there are major logistical challenges in terms of food aid delivery.

“Now that we are entering the rainy season, it will become extremely difficult to reach remote populations,” said the director of the National Food Security Office, Ali Adou Djorou. “We tried to preposition stocks before the rains as much as possible, but we will still face major problems with getting food to where the people are.”

Importing food into the region is costly and time-consuming and trucking routes even from neighbouring Cameroon are arduous.

“Everything needs to go through the congested port of Douala [in Cameroon]. Operations to bring in assistance for refugees [in the east] and affected populations [in the Sahelian belt] are competing. It easily takes four to five months for food to reach beneficiaries in Chad,” said World Food Programme (WFP) deputy country director Moumini Ouédraogo.

“Historically, the focus has been on [internally displaced people] and refugees [from neighbouring Darfur],” said the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Chad, Ute Kollies. “There are some 70 organizations responding to needs in the east, but this is a different operation, requiring a different expertise.” Logistics and funding delays are slowing the operation down, she said.

In the absence of established NGOs, WFP had to mount food distributions itself in the central regions of Batha and Guéra in early June. “We usually work with implementing partners, but when it was time to distribute, there were none,” said Ouédraogo. “NGOs are now arriving and will conduct the next food distribution [from now to the end of August in western regions].”

WFP short of food

WFP has received less than one-fifth of the 46,000 tons of food it says is needed to prevent hunger from worsening before the next harvest. In late 2009, the government, UN agencies and FEWS NET reckoned 80,000 tons of cereals were required to cover the needs of the affected population. The government has made 32,000 tons of cereals available at subsidized prices.

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Local procurement could also have been quicker, “but countries are not always willing to export their products,” said Ouédraogo. In May, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) called on governments not to impose barriers on regional trade in cereals, stressing that overall cereal production in the Sahel and West Africa had decreased by only 2 percent compared to last year’s harvest.

“The advocacy has worked,” said Ouédraogo. “If we secure more funds, we now have been told that we could buy in Nigeria. [The transportation from there] should take between a month and 45 days.” For the first time, WFP was able to buy 1,000 tons of beans from Burkina Faso this year.

But some in western regions cannot wait that long. People are starting to leave their homes in search of food, said OCHA’s Kollies. “We have already seen some 600 people moving from their place of origin to Moussoro [in the western region of Bahr El Gazel] where they wait for support. We are looking at a possible displacement due to hunger.”


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:

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