Home | News    Thursday 18 January 2007

UN warns Darfur’s aid operation may collapse

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Jan 17, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — U.N. agencies issued an unprecedented joint appeal on Wednesday calling for an end to the violence in Darfur, where widespread attacks and insecurity threaten to collapse the world’s largest aid operation.

The statement said in the past six months, some 250,000 people had been forced to flee violence, many for the second or third time, and a dozen aid workers were killed, more than at any other time during the four-year-old conflict in Sudan’s remote west.

"The humanitarian community cannot indefinitely assure the survival of the population in Darfur if insecurity continues," said the statement from 14 U.N. agencies working in Sudan.

Experts estimate some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes to miserable makeshift camps during the rape, pillage and murder in Darfur, which Washington calls genocide.

Khartoum denies genocide and says the Western media has exaggerated the conflict. The International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes in the region.

British aid agency Oxfam added its voice to the U.N. statement.

"Increasingly violent attacks against aid workers are crippling the massive humanitarian response in Darfur, leaving hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable and under threat," said Paul Smith-Lomas, Oxfam’s regional director.

"It is completely unacceptable for our staff to have to risk their lives while helping the people of Darfur," he added.

The roads in many parts of west and north Darfur are so insecure that staff can only be transported by expensive helicopter flights. In the past year the conflict has spread to Darfur’s main towns, forcing hundreds of staff evacuations staff and crippling operations.

In addition to insecurity, government-imposed bureaucracy and travel restrictions have also hindered the aid operation. Despite agreements ensuring freedom of movement and ease of access, hundreds of aid workers waste days waiting for permits or visas or filling out paperwork.

Foreign journalists have been banned from travelling to Darfur for the past two months to report on the situation.

The U.N. statement said the Darfur humanitarian operation, employing almost 14,000 aid workers and costing more than $1 billion, had saved hundreds of thousands of lives since it began in mid-2004. But it said that work was being undone as staff are evacuated because of attacks.

"This reduction of services is leading to a deterioration of hygiene in ... camps reflected by the cholera outbreak that struck 2,768 and killed 147 people during 2006," it said.

"Global malnutrition rates are edging perilously close to the emergency threshold," it added.

Mortality rates among war victims in Darfur at the height of the conflict resulted in an estimated 10,000 people dying each month. The U.N. agencies warned the good work to reduce that rate could be reversed if insecurity continued.

They urged sustained efforts be made to resume the peace process, which broke down after a May 2006 peace deal signed by only one of three negotiating rebel groups.

Many insurgents who rejected the deal formed a new alliance and renewed hostilities with the government, escalating the violence.

"Solid guarantees for the safety of civilians and humanitarian workers is urgently needed," the statement said. "Those who have committed attacks, harassment, abduction, intimidation, robbery and injury to civilians ... must be held accountable."

A struggling African Union force has failed to stem the violence or protect humanitarian workers, a major part of its mandate. Many aid groups refuse to travel with an AU escort in Darfur, saying the force itself has become a target for attacks and is unable to defend them.

(Reuters)

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