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KHARTOUM – The UN World Food Programme said today that a critically slow response to appeals for its emergency operation in Sudan have forced it to cut rations of pulses, sugar and salt for up to 3.5 million people immediately, to help limited stocks last longer.

While supplies of some commodities such as cereals, which form the major part of general food distribution rations, are not yet affected - complete breaks in the supply of others are now imminent.

“Ration cuts are a last resort, but we simply have no alternative,” said Bradley Guerrant, WFP Sudan Deputy Country Director. “We are cutting amounts of these three items in general food distributions so that we can keep some supplies going for longer. And we need to set aside stocks for the highest priority groups.”

“In particular, we are earmarking remaining sugar for feeding centres across Sudan to make sure that malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers get this vital part of their diet.”

Towards the end of February, WFP had only four per cent of the US$ 746 million it needed to feed more than six million people across Sudan in 2006. Even now, assistance received totals only 15 percent of the target, leaving WFP critically short of the funds it needs to sustain the life-saving operation. Another US$ 234 million is needed immediately to allow WFP to ensure supplies of food aid continue in the critical months ahead.

“While the latest donation from the United States – which brings their total contribution to US$ 114 million – is extremely welcome, we are urgently appealing for more cash so that we can continue to move food stocks into place in Sudan, in advance of the rainy season.”

“We are working in some of the most remote and inaccessible locations in the world in Sudan, and it can take four to five months to translate a donation into food assistance on the ground,” Guerrant said.

“We also have to give priority to pre-positioning stocks in parts of Sudan where road access will become impossible during the rainy season. The rains coincide with what we call the hunger gap, before the harvest, when needs peak. If we cannot truck in stocks before the rains start, we are forced to rely on much more expensive airdrops and airlifts,” Guerrant said.

As well as pulses, sugar and salt, a WFP ration includes cereals (the largest part), blended fortified food, and vegetable oil. These latter ration items are not affected by the cuts, which will come into effect immediately.

Among those receiving food assistance from WFP and its cooperating partners in Sudan are the displaced, eking out an existence in camps across Darfur, and returnees who, in the wake of last year’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, are now trekking back home in southern Sudan and the three areas (formerly known as the transitional areas).

Often arriving in their home areas with little or nothing, these people are returning to one of the most impoverished regions in the world.

In total, WFP’s emergency operation for Sudan – the agency’s largest and costliest in the world – requires US$ 746 million in 2006, and targets 6.1 million people in Darfur, in the south, the three areas (formerly known as the transitional areas) and in the east.

In addition, WFP runs a relief and recovery operation that targets Eritrean refugees in Sudan. This critically underfunded operation has also faced supply breaks.

Donors to WFP’s 2006 emergency operation, requiring US$ 746 million include: the United States (US$ 114 million); Belgium (US$ 604,595); Norway (US$ 317,388); Private (US$ 20,000).