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N’DJAMENA – The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that an escalation of the violence that has forced thousands of people from their homes along the Chadian border with Sudan’s Darfur region could seriously impede humanitarian assistance.

WFP currently feeds 207,400 Sudanese refugees housed in 12 camps inside Chad. Most refugees have been in Chad since 2004, but a fresh influx from Sudan has arrived over the past few months.

A violent cocktail of regular and rebel forces on both sides of the frontier, combined with an increasing number of incursions by armed groups, has led to fresh population movements on a worrying scale and renewed concern for the basic needs of those immediately affected.

“It is clear that the security situation along the border has deteriorated in recent weeks,” said WFP Chad Country Director, Stefano Porretti. “WFP is coordinating with partners, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, to ensure the situation is closely monitored. But the longer the insecurity in the area persists, the more serious the situation will become.”

An initial WFP assessment of the most affected areas in the eastern Chad border zone indicated that most people still have substantial food stocks that they can access, largely because the last harvest was one of the best in recent years. The most immediate need reported was for the safety of civilians in the prevailing insecurity.

However, with the annual ‘hunger season’ approaching WFP said there were very real fears that people would soon require essential humanitarian assistance. While it was difficult to assess the magnitude of needs because of current insecurity, WFP estimated that several thousand people would require assistance.

“Most people affected by the recent violence have enough food for another month or two, but after that, things are far less certain. Financially, our operation in eastern Chad is already clinging on by its fingertips – significant new requirements will require significant new resources from our donors,” said Porretti.

The annual mid-year ‘hunger season’ will overlap closely with the annual rains, rendering most of the roads in eastern Chad completely impassable. To ensure food distributions in the camps are not disrupted for lengthy periods, WFP is making major efforts to pre-position as much food as possible ahead of the rains. The success of this operation depends heavily on the speedy confirmation of donor contributions. This will ensure that food arrives in Chad early enough to be transported onwards to the camps.

WFP also warned today that its food stocks in Chad were being further stretched by a new wave of refugees fleeing violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). Several thousand people have crossed the border in recent months and are now housed in three camps in southern Chad. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the total number of CAR refugees in Chad is now close to 46,000, and the number continues to grow. A serious break in food supplies is expected by June.

WFP’s humanitarian air service is also facing suspension very shortly if further funds are not forthcoming. The air service provides a critical lifeline for UN and NGO staff and supplies to arrive in eastern Chad, which can only be reached by air during the rainy season.

“We are at an extremely delicate stage in Chad – right on the edge. Guarantees of both financial commitment to our operations and security in the region are essential to help stave off an even more serious humanitarian crisis, which we could have on our hands within weeks,” said Porretti.