April 28, 2006

UN cuts Sudan food rations due to funds shortage

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Friday it would cut food rations for more than 6 million people in Sudan, half of them in Darfur, due to a severe lack of funds.

Many donor countries appear to have tired of the long-term conflict in Darfur, despite signs that malnutrition is again on the rise among people living in squalid camps, the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said.

WFP said it was halving food aid from the minimum daily requirement of 2,100 calories to 1,050 calories as of May.

"This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Haven't the people of Darfur suffered enough? Aren't we adding insult to injury?" WFP executive director James Morris said.

"This is a measure we should simply never have to take," said Morris, who heads the world's largest food aid agency, feeding 90 million people worldwide.

The Rome-based agency had only received $238 million or 32 percent of its annual appeal of $746 million for Sudan. Africa's largest country is emerging from civil war in the south as talks continue on a peace deal to end a conflict in Darfur.

Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told a news briefing: "It is scandalous, but we have no choice."

Fighting erupted in Darfur in 2003 when mostly non-Arab tribes took up arms over land and water resources, accusing the government of neglect. Khartoum is accused of arming mainly Arab militia who began a murder, rape, and looting campaign that killed tens of thousands and uprooted more than 2 million.

"There is probably some donor fatigue. The conflict has been going on a long time. And there is no solution in sight," Berthiaume said.

The United States was the largest donor at $188 million, it said, while Italy was the only major European country to contribute so far ($1.2 million).

"WFP is particularly concerned about the effect of reduced rations in Darfur, where rampant insecurity continues to cause enormous suffering," WFP said in a statement.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) has already reported increased malnutrition rates in the region this year.

The WFP said the cuts would allow limited food stocks to last longer into the annual "hunger season," from July to September, when needs are greatest ahead of the harvest.

The WFP estimates that 2,100 calories a day is the minimum daily requirement needed to stay in good health.