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N’DJAMENA – Amid rising tensions and reported preparations for armed attacks in Chad, the United Nations World Food Programme warned today – election day – that food is becoming a serious issue for some 70,000 people who have either fled the continuous armed incursions in the east of the country or are resident there.

A WFP-led food security assessment mission which has just returned from eastern Chad, bordering the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur, said that while the situation was not yet cause for alarm, the food stocks of some 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) were rapidly being depleted as they share their limited resources with around 20,000 people hosting them.

Malnutrition rates in the areas visited by the assessment team are currently within acceptable norms (Global Acute Malnutrition of between 5.5 and 8 percent, with Severe Acute Malnutrition below two percent for children under five).

“We need to work fast now to avoid any sudden deterioration in these people’s nutritional status,” said Stefano Porretti, WFP Chad Country Director. “We are aiming to launch seed protection activities in areas which can be cultivated, so that Chadians remain self-sufficient for as long as possible. No general food distributions are planned at the moment, but we are keeping a close eye on how the situation evolves.”

Despite last month’s clashes around the country between government and rebel forces and the consequent relocation of non-essential UN and NGO staff, WFP remains operational in Chad and completed April food distributions in 12 camps in the east of the country, home to about 210,000 refugees from Darfur. However, uncertain security threatens to make an already highly complex logistical operation even more difficult.

“Even under normal circumstances, WFP’s operation in eastern Chad teeters on the brink,” said Porretti, “We want to ensure that the world is aware of how dire the situation could become for those people – both displaced Chadians and refugees from Darfur – who depend on our assistance.”

April and May are critical months to maintaining supplies of food, with WFP striving to pre-position enough food for six months in each of the 12 refugee camps in the east before the annual rains make road transport impossible. If truck convoys through Libya and Cameroon remain free to move, WFP is on target to get the food in place. But if insecurity forces delays, there will be serious consequences for deliveries.

Shortages during the rainy season can only be made up by expensive air-drops, something WFP is keen to avoid.

The closure of the border between Chad and Sudan following the rebel assault on the capital in April could also have a serious impact on WFP operations in West Darfur, where the agency is currently feeding a total of 500,000 people. Much of the food for the needy in West Darfur arrives from Libya via Chad, but the border closure has rendered this route unusable.

As the annual ‘hunger season’ begins to bite, it is certain that many of the displaced Chadians, as well as the communities hosting them, will run out of food and require emergency assistance.

WFP is creating a contingency stock for these people, but if the security situation deteriorates and Chadians are displaced in even greater numbers, it will increase the already severe pressure on both the financial resources available to meet their needs and on WFP’s ability to deliver food to them.

WFP’s US$87 million emergency operation in eastern Chad is currently only 60 percent funded; further contributions are vital to ensure food deliveries to the camps following the rainy season until the end of the year. As Chad is a landlocked nation, food supplies take up to four months to arrive in-country following a donation.

Donors to WFP’s emergency operation in eastern Chad include the United States (US$21 million), European Commission (US$5.2 million), France (US$3.5 million), Netherlands (US$3.4 million), Canada (US$3.2 million), United Kingdom (US$3.2 million), Japan (US$1.3 million), Ireland (US$830,000), Finland (US$366,000), Switzerland (US$342,000) and Spain (US$181,000).