May 6, 2010 / 8:09 PM / 9 years ago

Chad must protect convoys in food crisis - WFP

* Up to 2.5 million in Chad deemed food-insecure, WFP says

* Security Council to debate peacekeeper withdrawal



GENEVA, May 6 (Reuters) - Chad must protect food convoys, aid workers and civilians if peacekeepers are withdrawn from the drought-hit country where up to 2.5 million people lack adequate nutrition, the World Food Programme said on Thursday.

In a report that the United Nations Security Council will consider on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommends that the council approve a one-year revised mandate for the force known as MINURCAT. The mission would wind down over that period and would, as of May 16 this year, hand to Chadian authorities its responsibility for protecting civilians.

Oil-producing Chad and its neighbour in the Sahel region of West Africa, Niger, are in the grip of a growing food crisis after poor harvests.

The blue-helmeted U.N. troops and police provide armed escorts for WFP convoys delivering vital rations despite frequent attacks and car-jackings by armed bandits, especially in the lawless east bordering Sudan, according to the U.N. agency.

"With these acts of banditry we need a mobile and efficient force to protect us and allow us to access the population in need," Jean-Luc Siblot, head of WFP’s operations in Chad, told a news briefing in Geneva.

"Chad has promised it is going to take over the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers, but we don’t know in which form," he said.

The WFP aims to feed 800,000 people in the west,but it takes months to buy food on the international market and bring it through Libya across the desert or via Cameroon, Siblot said.

"We are running a race against time to bring food in time before the next rainy season," he said.

In eastern Chad, WFP is currently feeding 250,000 refugees from Darfur, Sudan, and 160,000 internally displaced Chadians. Another 75,000 refugees from Central African Republic are receiving rations in southeastern Chad.

The WFP initially sought $450 million to feed 500,000 people this year in Chad, essentially those in the east.

"With the malnutrition crisis, we are now looking at fivefold that — 2.5 million people who are vulnerable and food insecure," said Ute Kollies of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Chad.

"With the progressive withdrawal of MINURCAT, it is important to protect civilians and humanitarian actors. There is the possibility of a security vacuum in the east," she said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay with additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip in New York; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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