WFP food convoy fast tracked to Mexico flood victims

Tabasco, Mexico, 12 November 2007 – When the convoy of five semi-trailers roared out of WFP’s Regional Center for Humanitarian Response in El Salvador on November 7, headed for flood-hit
Tabasco in Mexico, team leader Andrew Stanhope was girding himself for the challenges, red tape and obstacles, fate would throw his way.

But something was very different this time. There were flashing red lights and a police escort. The Government of El Salvador had provided special police protection to ensure maximum speed and
security for the convoy. Guatemala and Mexico did the same.

“It was great,” said Stanhope, a wizened veteran of emergencies made even more complicated by the miles and miles of coronary inducing red-tape normally wielded by border officials. “This time,
we just sailed through.”

Worst floods – Residents of Villahermosa are using boats to move through their flooded neighbourhoods.
It took the convoy two days to wend its way through northern Central America, and Mexico’s lush and mountainous Chiapas state to reach Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco where 700,000 to one
million people had been affected by the worst floods in living memory.

In some parts of the city, the water had reportedly risen as much as six meters.

Over 150,000 people had been forced to abandon their homes and had sought refuge in local government shelters. Many of the more than 1,000 shelters were small and improvised.

High-Energy Biscuits – The WFP convoy was carrying 100 metric tons (mt) of ready-to-eat High Energy Biscuits (HEBs). This is enough to feed 70,000 people for five days. Local authorities
plan to use the HEBs to feed people in the more isolated shelters where fully equipped cooking facilities may be lacking.

“We slept very little on the way,” said Public Information Officer Elizabeth Sagastume, who joined the convoy in Guatemala.

“The important thing was to get the biscuits to Mexico as quickly as possible. You don’t feel good knowing that there are hungry people while you are riding with a small mountain of food. It’s
only once you’ve arrived and the food is handed over that you can really relax.”

Warm welcome – WFP does not have an office in Mexico, which is a successful developing country with a dynamic economy. However, given the magnitude and devastation of the floods caused
by the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Noel, WFP quickly offered the Government of Mexico to send help. While the government had said it would not solicit offers of assistance, it warmly welcomed
WFP’s effort to help.

With local authorities in Villahermosa planning the distribution of the biscuits, Mexican President Felipe Calderon flew to Villahermosa for the fifth time to assess the situation. In a
televised address, President Calderon thanked foreign donors for their help, and singled out WFP.

“I want to also thank?the United Nations, above all of the World Food Programme, which has sent 100 tons of fortified biscuits overland from El Salvador.”

Great ending – “The president’s praise and recognition of WFP was a great ending to what I will remember as the smoothest operation of my career so far,” said a still sleep-hungry Andrew
Stanhope as he monitored the unloading of the HEB’s from the convoy.

The biscuits will be distributed by the Sistema de Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF).

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