Emergency food aid for a million people in drought-stricken Sudan has been held up here for four weeks because federal agencies have been unable to agree on the best way to provide the aid, U.S. officials said.
Sudan, like more than two dozen other African countries, is suffering from drought. While some of the most severely affected countries have no food, Sudan has limited supplies. The main food crisis facing the east African nation is transporting that food to western regions where the most people are needy.
U.S. development officials in Sudan have requested that the United States provide $11 million in aid, including 38,000 metric tons of wheat. A metric ton is about 2,200 pounds.
The wheat, according to officials for the U.S. Agency for International Development, could be sold in the eastern part of the country, primarily in the capital, Khartoum, and the money used locally to buy sorghum, which the United States does not produce for human consumption.
Then the sorghum could be taken to the western regions of Kordofan and Darfur most affected by the drought, officials said. Between now and November, the pre-harvest period, food supplies are generally lowest, AID officials said.
Unlike usual requests, Sudan is asking that the wheat be provided free as part of emergency food aid but be used as currency instead of going directly to the affected area or people, officials said.
Because of the circumstances, they said, a decision on the request has been delayed. Administration officials said they hoped to reach a decision by next week.
Some U.S. officials say the situation in Sudan is not critical enough to qualify for the type of free emergency food aid requested.
"It's not a question of not having food sorghum , but of not having the local funds to move the food," said one administration official. Among officials at the State Department, AID and Department of Agriculture, the three main agencies responsible for coordinating food aid, "there is a large body of opinion that . . . if the emergency request is for food to sell, then . . . perhaps the country can afford to pay for the food and the ocean freight," this official said.
Other officials said Sudan could not afford to pay for the aid and that the request was the most appropriate way of providing relief.
In the fiscal year ending this month, 26 African countries, not including Sudan, have received nearly $172 million in emergency food aid grants from the United States, AID officials said.