A top U.S. official, saying “it’s a race against time,” called Friday for nations around the world, including the Soviet Union, to do more to support an international famine-relief effort organized during a break in Sudan’s civil war.
“Everybody wants peace, but peace will be a hollow victory if the people for whom peace is the goal are not alive because we can’t deliver the food in time to save them,” said Julia V. Taft, director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in the Agency for International Development.
Taft spoke at a news briefing about the U.S. role in “Operation Lifeline,” the U.N.-sponsored effort to deliver more than 100,000 tons of food to more than 1 million people during April. Participants describe the project as the largest effort of its kind in a developing nation.
More than 100,000 people face starvation unless the food can be delivered during the agreed-upon “month of tranquillity” in Sudan’s conflict.
The United Nations estimated that more than 250,000 Sudanese died of starvation last year because food deliveries were impeded by both the government and southern rebels, who have been battling for more than six years.
The object of the operation is to deliver the food by train, truck, barge and air to remote areas in the south before seasonal rains and floods make routes impassable.
Taft will be in the region next week with a congressional delegation. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), a member of the delegation, said Friday that he would press for a meeting with the leader of Sudan’s rebels to seek a permanent settlement of the conflict and assure safe passage of emergency food supplies.
“We have seen the demise of food convoys. Airlifts of food have been destroyed, planes have been shot down, convoys have been captured,” Leland said. “I hope to develop routes to facilitate food convoys.”
Regarding the emergency relief effort, Taft said: “It’s a race against time.” Unless the Sudanese government, the rebels, the United Nations and the donor nations pull together over the next few weeks, she said, “We will see a repeat of last year’s horror.”
The cost of the project is $132 million, $55 million of which still must be raised.
Taft said the United States has arranged to provide about $30 million and is trying to arrange for an additional $10 million to pay for a “food swap” that would trade some foods in Sudan for others that certain Sudanese need.
The $30 million is in addition to $72 million in various forms of aid that the United States has pledged to Sudan since February, Taft said.
But the United States is concerned, Taft said, because many nations that have pledged to help the U.N. relief program with food now need to come forward with cash in the emergency effort.
“We will deliver. But we’re quite concerned that the other donors were not forthcoming.. . . For some reason, we’re out there in front and we would like to expand the participation of other donors in this urgent effort,” she said.
Taft said the international community is hopeful that nations such as Japan and Saudi Arabia can assist the effort.
She said she fears that because the crisis has not had the media coverage of the 1984 Ethiopia famine or the Soviet earthquake, the world community is not aware of the severity of the tragedy.