1.5 million Sudanese desperate for food aid

CAIRO - Nearly 1.5 million people in southern Sudan will need food aid this year and more than 600,000 will have virtually no other food source, according to a report issued by UN agencies.

Despite a predicted surplus in the country's cereal harvest, civil war and tribal fighting have cut off large parts of the south and threatened hundreds of thousands of people with malnutrition and starvation. Diplomats in Cairo yesterday said that aid groups in Sudan and Kenya were trying to ship in supplies before next month's rains made many southern roads impassable. But the relief groups are hampered by lack of funds.

A dollars 190m ( pounds 127m) appeal launched in January by United Nations relief agencies had raised only dollars 40m by the beginning of May. Aid workers in Khartoum late last month identified four serious risk areas, adding that many areas of the country are so unstable that relief agencies have withdrawn staff, making reliable information very difficult to collect.

The areas of risk were a 'famine triangle' between the towns of Kongor, Waat and Ayod in Jonglei state, where tribal-led rival factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) are fighting, and the conjunction of Bahr al-Ghazzal, Kordofan and Upper Nile states. Aid sources say crop failure in Bahr al-Ghazzal and reports of atrocities by 'Baggara' Arab militias are driving tens of thousands of black African farmers off their land into towns that have no resources to cater for them.

Also at risk were camps for the displaced near the Ugandan border, under the control of the SPLA leader, John Garang, and cut off for six months after aid workers were killed there - a survey found malnutrition in the camps topped 70 per cent - and the town of Juba, under government control. Aid workers say the town is relatively calm after fighting last year but local harvests have failed and about 340,000 people need food, while stocks have fallen to 'critical' levels. Next month's rainy season could render many land routes impassable and make hundreds of thousands dependent on costly airlifts for three or four months.

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