A plan backed by the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League for delivering aid to war-affected Sudanese states has not come too late, the head of the World Food Programme said Monday.
Six months after the three organisations submitted their proposal to Khartoum, the government in early August signed a memorandum of understanding with them to allow for humanitarian access throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile -- including in rebel-held areas.
The UN has expressed concern for months about a worsening humanitarian situation in the war zone, where Khartoum cited security concerns in tightly restricting the operations of foreign aid agencies.
"It's never too late to get to a plan when there is an opportunity to serve," WFP's executive director, Ertharin Cousin, told reporters.
"We have beneficiaries in need. The government has committed to supporting the MOU and working out the logistics and providing that space and that opportunity for us to serve those in need."
A similar memorandum has been reached with rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), who have been battling government forces since June last year in South Kordofan, and since September in Blue Nile state.
The number of people affected by the fighting has more than doubled since December, according to UN figures, and now stands at more than 650,000.
In April some refugees reaching South Sudan reported that they had to forage in the wild to survive.
After talks with Sudan's Vice President Ali Osman Taha, Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmud Ahmad and other officials, Cousin said there was no specific start date for the aid operation.
"But I can say that in each of the conversations there was a sense of urgency expressed, on our side as well as on the side of the government, to complete the logistical arrangements and to begin the operations," she said.
The AU-UN-Arab League plan allows for an assessment of the needs before aid is distributed but the WFP estimates it would require about 20,000 additional tonnes of food.
Although it has not yet been able to reach rebel-held zones, the UN agency says it has distributed 4,000 tonnes of food for about 110,000 people in government-controlled areas since the war began.
Cousin, named to her post in April, is the first WFP boss in memory to meet with the Sudanese government. She was to travel on to South Sudan at the end of her day-long visit.© ANP/AFP