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N’DJAMENA – In its capacity as the United Nations’ lead logistics agency, the World Food Programme has begun relocating all non-essential UN and NGO staff and their families from N’djamena and Abeche after security conditions deteriorated sharply in Chad this week.

A total of 148 people from N’djamena on Thursday – are being flown directly to Yaoundé in Cameroon, where they will remain until it is considered safe for them to return.

Two aircraft, a Boeing 727 and a L-100 Hercules under charter to WFP in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have flown in via Bangui in the Central African Republic to help carry out the operation.

“This is not a full-scale evacuation and does not mean the complete halt of WFP’s operations in Chad,” said Stefano Porretti, WFP Chad Country Director. “We still have key staff in place, although obviously the lack of capacity on the ground will have an impact on the level of our work. Given the unpredictability of the situation, this relocation of non-essential staff was the most prudent course of action.”

WFP works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), other UN agencies and NGOs to feed over 200,000 refugees from the Darfur conflict in 12 camps in eastern Chad, as well as over 40,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in the south. The refugees are largely dependent on monthly food distributions for their nutritional needs.

Assistance to the local Chadian population will also be affected by the withdrawal of staff. An estimated 45,000 people have been forced from their homes in eastern Chad over the past few months as the region has become increasingly destabilised.

On 24 March, WFP warned that violence along the Chad/Sudan border was threatening thousands of people, whose lives have become more difficult with the approach of the annual “hunger season”.

“We sincerely hope that the current political and security situation in Chad will be resolved as quickly as possible, so as not to endanger the lives of the thousands of people who depend on international assistance,” said Porretti.