UN agency cuts Darfur refugees' rations

UN agency is forced to cut Darfur food rations in half because it can't afford to give proper rations.

The United Nations plans to cut individual food rations to six million people sheltering from violence in Sudan by half, saying it cannot afford to give them all a proper daily ration.

Citing "donor fatigue," Christiane Berthiaume, a spokeswoman for the UN's World Food Program (WFP), said her agency was cutting daily rations to an average of just 1,050 calories per person, half a normal daily diet tally of 2,100.

"This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made," said WFP chief James Morris. "Haven't the people of Darfur suffered enough?"

About half the people affected by the ration cut are in Sudan's embattled Darfur region, where a long civil war has left thousands of people starving. Three million others have fled the region for refugee camps elsewhere.

More than 180,000 people have died since the conflict started in 2003.

Donations have been cut this year

The World Food Program said it cannot afford to buy more food because donor countries have slashed their donations this year to only $238 million US, or 32 per cent of the $746 million US that the program said it needs in Sudan this year.

"WFP has to cut the food rations to millions of vulnerable people in Sudan," Berthiaume said. "It is scandalous, but we have no choice."

Canada is among the countries which have slashed funding for emergency food aid in Sudan. Last year, it gave over $20 million. This year the figure is just over $5 million.

Liberal and Conservative MPs have been calling for more aid to Darfur.

The U.S. has been the largest donor so far, giving $188 million US, Reuters said. U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to meet with Darfur advocates Friday afternoon.

Ration equals one fast-food meal a day

One thousand calories is approximately the amount of energy available from eating one cheeseburger, a packet of fries and a large soft drink at a Canadian fast-food restaurant.

The WFP estimates that an average adult male needs 2,100 calories a day to remain healthy over the long term. (Women who aren't pregnant and children need less.)

"Malnutrition will rise," Peter Smerdon, the Africa Spokesman for the World Food Program, told the CBC in an interview about the ration cut.

"We don't want to take this step at all," Smerdon told CBC News. "We are only taking it to eke out what supplies we have through the hunger season which is July to September."

Fighting in Darfur began in February 2003 when rebels from black African tribes took up arms, complaining of discrimination and oppression by Sudan's Arab-dominated government.

Since then, disturbing accounts have surfaced of mass rapes and killings by the Arab janjaweed militia members who are rumoured to be getting support from the Sudanese government.