Any continuation or escalation of the current conflict in Chad could leave up to 700,000 thousands of people short of food in both eastern Chad and across the border in the strife-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.“Our operation in eastern Chad is on a knife-edge even at the best of times,” WFP Chad Country Director Stefano Porretti said. “We have warned for some time that any deterioration in the situation could have dire consequences for those we are assisting and now some of our worst fears might be realized.”Despite the recent clashes around Chad between government and rebel forces and the consequent relocation of non-essential UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff, WFP remains operational and is completing April food distributions in camps in the east of the country, home to about 210,000 refugees from Darfur.But the months of April and May are absolutely critical to the success of the operation as WFP battles to pre-position enough food for six months in each of the 12 refugee camps before the annual rains make road transport impossible. If truck convoys through Libya and Cameroon remain free to move, WFP is on target to get the food in place, but if insecurity forces delays, there will be serious consequences for deliveries, the agency warned. Shortages during the rainy season can only be made up by expensive air-drops, something WFP is keen to avoid. The closure of the border between Chad and Sudan after the recent rebel assault on the Chadian capital of N’Djamena could also seriously affect WFP operations in West Darfur, where it is currently feeding 500,000 Sudanese displaced by the fighting between the Government, pro-government militia and rebels in a conflict that has uprooted more than 2 million people.WFP is also concerned that further violence in the east will lead to the displacement of many more Chadians within their country. An estimated 50,000 people have been forced from their homes since the first attacks in December last year. Most have sought refuge with family and friendly neighbours in nearby settlements where their prime concern is security. As the annual ‘hunger season’ begins to bite in the weeks and months ahead, it is certain that many of the displaced, as well as the communities hosting them, will run out of food and require emergency assistance. WFP is creating a contingency stock, but if security worsens and even more people are displaced, it will increase the already severe pressure on both the financial resources available and WFP’s ability to deliver food to them. “We are all working in a very uncertain environment. The longer the instability continues, the more people will need assistance and yet that same assistance will be even more difficult to provide. The first people to suffer will be those who need help most,” Mr. Porretti said.