Sudan: UN humanitarian chief urges constructive relationship to save lives

(Khartoum/New York, 10 May 2009): John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, concluding his five-day visit to Sudan, urged increased cooperation in responding to urgent humanitarian needs, and a genuinely constructive future operating environment for humanitarian actors.

This was Mr. Holmes second visit in six months to Sudan and his fourth since becoming the Emergency Relief Coordinator. His visit aimed to review the humanitarian situation in the areas affected by the 4 March government decision to close three national NGOs and expel 13 international NGOs, and to promote a better relationship between government and the humanitarian community, based on genuine confidence and trust. In addition to discussions in Khartoum with senior Sudanese ministers and officials, Mr. Holmes visited Southern Sudan to see recently displaced communities affected by continuing inter-tribal conflict, and Northern Darfur.

"The expulsions by the Government and the manner in which they were carried out created both major new risks for vulnerable populations in Darfur and elsewhere, and a crisis of confidence with the humanitarian community," said Mr. Holmes. "As the rainy and lean season approach, we are still grappling with the gaps left in many areas," he added.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator welcomed the positive collaboration with the government on the Joint Assessment in Darfur, and noted that the most urgent short-term needs in food, health and nutrition, emergency shelter, water and sanitation were being tackled; however he voiced his concern about the longer-term needs in all sectors. "The critical test will be over the coming months. Our ability to respond in a timely and efficient manner, and fill the gaps in a sustained way, will require the active engagement of all actors and a loosening of the bureaucratic impediments currently constraining the humanitarian community," said Mr. Holmes.

Mr. Holmes co-chaired with the Government of Sudan the first meeting of an expanded High Level Committee, which aims to monitor and solve humanitarian problems, and monitor the operation of existing agreements such as the Joint Communiqué of 2007. The meeting was attended by key senior Government officials, donors and other representatives from the international community, and NGO representatives.

"The High-Level Committee and the meetings I had in Khartoum marked positive steps forward in our engagement with the Government of Sudan on policy issues as well as the operating environment, following other recent positive decisions," said Mr. Holmes. "Agreement was reached on what we hope will be an effective monitoring mechanism at the state, national, and international levels, and a strengthened aid delivery system," said Mr. Holmes.

"As with all such agreements, implementation on the ground will be the key," concluded Mr. Holmes.

In his discussions with officials in Khartoum and North Darfur, Mr. Holmes also called attention to the increasingly unsafe operating environment in Darfur, which has seen a further rise in banditry and two particularly worrying kidnappings since 4 March, and urged the need to work together closely to improve security for all concerned.

On Friday, the Emergency Relief Coordinator visited Akobo in Jonglei State, Southern Sudan, where tens of thousands of recently displaced civilians are in desperate need as a result of the violence in that area between the Murle and Nuer tribes. "I remain deeply concerned about the increasing violence in Southern Sudan. My message to the authorities was to work urgently on ways to reconcile differences, and promote voluntary disarmament. Meanwhile we are working together to meet the considerable humanitarian needs in the South," said Mr. Holmes.

Since January 2009, up to 1000 people have been killed and over 100,000 people displaced in seven states in Southern Sudan due to LRA attacks and inter-ethnic clashes.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator leaves Sudan on Monday 11 May.

For further information, please call: OCHA-Sudan: Orla Clinton, 00 249 912174454, Clinton@un.org; OCHA-New York: Stephanie Bunker, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679, bunker@un.org; Nicholas Reader, +1 212 963 4961, mobile +1 646 752 3117, reader@un.org, John Nyaga, +1 917 367 9262, +1 917 318 8917; OCHA-Geneva: Elisabeth Byrs, +41 22 917 2653, mobile +41 79 473 4570, byrs@un.org

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