12 April 2007The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will gradually switch operations in southern Sudan from emergency relief to long-term recovery after projecting that demand for its aid will fall by almost a fifth this year as the region recovers from two decades of civil war. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it will gradually switch operations in southern Sudan from emergency relief to long-term recovery after projecting that demand for its aid will fall by almost a fifth this year as the region recovers from two decades of civil war. Better harvests and a more stable security situation across southern Sudan mean the amount of food aid will drop from 133,000 metric tons last year to an expected 108,000 metric tons this year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This means about 1.3 million southern Sudanese will depend on WFP for food aid this year, compared to 1.6 million last year. WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said the increased stability, following a comprehensive peace agreement ending the north-south war at the start of 2005, brought with it greater food security. “As the war in the south fades into history, we want people to return to their farms and restart their normal lives,” she said. “We recognize that we cannot abruptly stop the flow of aid but we can gradually shift people back to greater food independence.” WFP has been operating in southern Sudan since the north-south war began in the early 1980s, often using airdrops to deliver food because of the vast region’s unreliable food network. At its peak in the late 1990s, the WFP operation was using 10 cargo planes to each make three food delivery runs per day. But since the war ended, many of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees who have returned to their home areas are farming again, taking advantage of seeds and agricultural tools provided by UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other aid groups. Food production in southern Sudan is forecast to jump from 805,000 tons to 838,000 metric tons this year, said Justin Bagirishya, WFP Coordinator in Juba, the southern Sudanese capital. “But the real change is not so much about tonnage, but rather about how food is used,” noting that air drops will stop completely as many vulnerable communities are easier to reach thanks to an improving road network. No food aid will be provided for free this year, according to OCHA, except to children under five, the elderly, people affected by HIV/AIDS, returnees who have just arrived and chronically food insecure groups who are unable work. But WFP is scaling up its school feeding programme, which not only provides nutrition to pupils but offers an incentive to go to classes in an area with some of the lowest attendance rates in the world. This year the Programme plans to give 450,000 children a hot meal at school, up from 152,000 in 2006. More than 1 million people have returned home to southern Sudan since the war ended, and another 430,000 are expected to make the journey this year, either from neighbouring countries or other regions of Sudan. To encourage more returnees, WFP is also expanding its “food-for-work” scheme, where communities receive food in return for participating in projects such as the construction or rehabilitation of schoolrooms, health-care centres, dams, dykes and wells. The agency is continuing its intensive relief operations to assist Sudanese in Darfur, where conflict in has caused some 200,000 deaths and displaced approximately 2 million others, and across the border in Chad.