Tuesday, April 07, 2009

AU/UN officials report humanitarian progress in Darfur

April 06, 2009 Voice of America News report by Peter Heinlein:
AU/UN Officials Report Humanitarian Progress in Darfur
Addis Ababa - A senior official of the hybrid African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur says progress is being made in filling the gap left by Sudan's expulsion of 13 humanitarian aid agencies. The war crimes indictments handed down against Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, have not led to a deterioration of security in Darfur.

Rodolphe Adada, the joint A.U./U.N. Special Representative for Darfur says Sudan's decision to expel more than 10 percent of the aid agencies in Darfur has complicated the work of the hybrid peacekeeping force known as UNAMID. "It is like a threat. You cannot be doing just your normal business in front of many hungry and angry people," he said.

Adada says hungry Darfurians do not want to hear that UNAMID's mandate is strictly peacekeeping and not aid distribution.

After briefing the African Union Peace and Security Council on Monday, Adada acknowledged that the recent influx of displaced persons at the Zam Zam camp in northern Darfur has strained humanitarian operations. But he says a feared deterioration of security conditions has not occurred.

"We think there have been no major consequences in the security in Darfur. And it is more than one month later -- the situation is fine now. The problem in Zam Zam was a little bit different. But we are trying to help the best we can. This humanitarian thing is a concern because we are on the ground. And if we have to pass through a disaster, it will impact immediately on UNAMID," he said.

Also speaking to the Council was Sudan's A.U. Ambassador, Mohiedin Salim, who described the 13 expelled aid groups as spies and charged that the expulsion had created what he called a "false media outcry".

Salim acknowledged a gap in humanitarian services since the expulsions, leaving thousands of people displaced by the fighting in Darfur without food and medical care.

But he said the more than 100 agencies remaining in the region could quickly make up most of the aid shortfall. "The NGOs [i.e., non-governmental organizations] are already there. We have 105 foreign NGOs; we have now 14 American NGOs. We have now 12 British NGOs. They are right now on the ground working. Forty-five percent of the work in Darfur now is exercised by the Red Crescent of Sudan," he said.

The United States says diplomats recently visiting Zam Zam camp found worsening conditions, including water shortages.

Aid agencies say more than six years of civil war in Darfur has forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes. Officials estimate that at least 200,000 people died in the first two years of the conflict.

But UNAMID figures show conflict-related death tolls have dropped sharply during the past few years, averaging about 1,500 people a year since early 2005.

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