The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that it was shipping fishing gear to the suffering population in southern Sudan, the first time in years that aid agencies have been able to gain access to that part of the war-torn country.Following a ceasefire agreement reached last month in Kenya between the Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the UN and other humanitarian organizations have been able to reach previously inaccessible areas.“For the first time in several years, FAO is now entering these areas and will be able to reach 58,000 people, among the most vulnerable in southern Sudan,” said Marc Bellemans, FAO’s Emergency Coordinator in Khartoum. For 2003, the UN agency has launched a $19 million aid appeal to assist the most vulnerable people to produce their own food; no pledges have been made so far.A barge set off from Malakal in the Upper Nile Province on 4 December and is currently steaming its way along the Sobat River towards Nasir near the Ethiopian border. Once there, it will unload fishing gear, including nets, ropes and hooks, along with seeds and tools for 27 villages.For many years, this part of southern Sudan has been very unsafe, according to FAO. Now the region has become a priority for emergency interventions for the UN and other humanitarian organizations. In government-controlled areas of southern Sudan, such as the area along the Sobat River, average malnutrition rates are around 20 per cent.“We estimate that around 10 per cent of the families along this stretch of the river will receive fishing gear,” Mr. Bellemans said. This will help them to improve their food situation and should contribute to reducing malnutrition. It will also make them less dependant on food aid.”Southern Sudan, with its wetlands and rivers, has important natural fish resources. Subsistence fishing contributes significantly to improving food supply. Malnutrition rates decreased overall where fishing equipment has been distributed, FAO said.