Monday, January 29, 2007

Oxfam (GB): Six aid agencies warn Darfur operations approaching breaking point, conflict worse than ever

Jan 28 2007 press release by British Oxfam (hat tip POTP) Excerpt:
On the eve of the AU summit, the six biggest aid agencies working in Darfur warned that the humanitarian operation there was on the verge of total breakdown.

The "enormous humanitarian response in Darfur will soon be paralysed unless African and global leaders at the AU summit take urgent action to end rising violence against civilians and aid workers," they said in a joint statement.

The agencies - Action Against Hunger, Care International, Oxfam International, [the] Norwegian Refugee Council, World Vision and Save the Children - said [that] the conflict was now worse than ever, with aid workers being increasingly targeted as they seek to help threatened Darfuris.

Fresh fighting in January has left more than 350 people dead* and forced tens of thousands more from their homes. Splits in the rebel movements and a widespread lack of accountability have left Darfur increasingly lawless, leading to the direct targeting of aid workers. The violence has spread throughout Darfur and crossed the border into Chad. Even major towns and cities are now plagued with violence and have seen fighting and hijackings on the streets.

More than a month after an attack on aid workers in Gereida, the most violent of the conflict so far, which saw staff raped, beaten and subjected to mock executions, it is still far too dangerous for agencies to return to the camp, the world's largest for displaced people, where 130,000 have sought refuge from attacks on their villages. Temporary evacuations of staff from other locations across Darfur have continued, with nearly 500 aid workers withdrawn since the start of December. In early January, the UN warned that malnutrition rates are again rising close to emergency levels. Progress made in stabilising conditions over the past four years is in serious danger of being reversed.

The six agencies warn [that] the Summit will fail unless:

1. African Heads of States led by Chairperson Denis Sassou Nguesso and new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon greatly increase the pressure on all parties to the conflict to ensure [that] attacks on civilians and aid workers end immediately, and ensure that perpetrators of violence are held to account.

2. The African Union Commission does more to end the growing violent attacks. The AU's credibility with the people of Darfur is at an all-time low. AU troops in Darfur must immediately try to regain the civilian population's confidence by implementing the following proactive protection measures:

- Regular "firewood patrols" accompanying women who collect essential firewood and animal fodder outside the camps. Although previously in place these have now ceased in most locations in Darfur.

- A 24/7 presence inside the main camps and towns [in order] to ensure safety of civilians.

- Making more effective use of the Ceasefire Commission [in order] to bring violators to account.

"The international community has failed the people of Darfur by not providing the AU force with the funds, equipment and support that it needs. But the AU can, and must, do more with the resources already at its disposal. There is no reason why firewood patrols cannot resume immediately," said Hussein Halane, Save the Children Country Director in Sudan.

Aid agencies working on the ground in Darfur have repeatedly called for the AU force to be strengthened, but despite two years of promises from the entire international community, the AU is now providing even less protection than before.

* UN/Sudan government figures
For more information contact:
At the Summit, in Addis Ababa:
Ismaila Dieng, +251 911079009,
Clare Rudebeck, Oxfam, +44 (0) 7769 887 139,,
Sylvain Trottier, ACF, +33 1 43358224,

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