Sudan: Briefing by Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the humanitarian situation in Darfur

Situation Report
Originally published
Our entire humanitarian operation in Darfur - the only lifeline for more than three million people - is presently at risk. We need immediate action on the political front to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe with massive loss of life. Since 2004 we have seen tens of thousands of deaths each year. If the humanitarian operation were to collapse, we could see hundreds of thousands of deaths. In short, we may end up with a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale in Darfur. Several factors point to this.
First, since May there has been a dramatic increase of violence, sexual abuse, and displacement. The fighting between, on one side, Government forces and SLA-Minawi, and on the other, the rebels who did not sign the DPA, has resulted in hundreds of deaths, despicable gender based violence, systematic looting, and an estimated 50,000 displaced in the last 8 weeks. IRC issued a press release last week reporting that more than 200 women and girls have been sexually assaulted in the last five weeks alone around only one camp, Kalma in South Darfur. An additional 200 women and girls say they have been attacked in other ways during the same period, including being beaten, punched and kicked by assailants who lie in wait a few miles outside the camp. The brave women of Kalma, who have endured so much, have taken the unprecedented step of openly appealing for help. Most other survivors of rape are too scared to seek medical help for fear of intimidation, harassment and arrest.

Farmers in North and West Darfur are reporting that they are being harassed, beaten, whipped, and in some cases shot and killed to prevent them from cultivating the land. Humanitarian agencies have carried out seed distributions in many areas, but as a result of insecurity and population displacement too little planting has taken place to avoid massive humanitarian needs in Darfur well into 2007.

The second factor pointing toward the abyss is more deadly attacks on humanitarian staff than ever before. Attacks against humanitarians are at an all-time high, with 9 humanitarian workers killed in the month of July alone. More than 25 UN or NGO vehicles have been ambushed or hijacked in the last two months, with one organization losing three vehicles to hijackings in a two-day period. If this continues, one organization after the other will be leaving Darfur because we cannot expose our staff to such unacceptable risks to their lives.

Thirdly, there has been a dramatic reduction in access. Access is at its lowest levels since it all started in 2003-2004. We have no access at all to large areas in the Jebel Marra, northern North Darfur, and northern West Darfur and inaccessible areas are expanding by the day. Even in some areas where we do have access, organizations have been forced to suspend all but the most essential operations as a result of insecurity.

NGOs in North Darfur are largely confined to the capital. Again, key organizations feel paralyzed and have raised the prospect of full withdrawal. Hundreds of thousands would then be left without any humanitarian assistance. The World Health Organization has reported that 40% of the population in North Darfur are not receiving health care as its NGO implementing partners have been forced to withdraw from numerous locations across the state. Vaccinations in the state have dropped from 90% in 2005 to a mere 20% in 2006. WFP have reported that 470,000 people across Darfur did not receive their monthly rations in July, up from the 290,000 who could not be reached in June. We can expect that once again this month half a million people will not receive the food on which they depend for their very survival.

Mr. President,

While all this is going on, AMIS' impact is diminishing. The allegations that AMIS is partial to the Government and the SLA-Minawi faction may force humanitarian organizations to rethink their engagement with AMIS, for fear of compromising their own impartiality. Some rebel groups have indicated that they consider the AU to be their enemy, and the AU is increasingly targeted, with tragic consequences last weekend when two AMIS soldiers were killed in an attack in North Darfur.

The final piece of this bleak scenario is humanitarian funding. Humanitarian requirements in Darfur are facing a shortfall of almost $300 million for this year alone. The humanitarian component of the Work Plan for Darfur is only 63% funded, with many sectors less than 35% funded. WFP was forced to cut rations to 50% in May, but thanks to some important contributions announced while I was in Darfur, in early June, they were able to raise rations back up to 85%. Without new contributions in the coming weeks, WFP recently warned that it may be forced to introduce new dramatic cuts in rations in October in order to stretch limited resources into the early months of 2007.

Mr. President,

In the past months I have repeatedly called for attention to the deteriorating situation in Darfur. As you have heard today our warnings have become a black reality that calls for immediate action: insecurity is at its highest levels since 2004, access at its lowest levels since that date and we may well be on the brink of a return to all-out war. This would mean the withdrawal of international staff from Darfur, leaving millions of vulnerable Darfuris to suffer their fate without assistance and with few outsiders to witness. A return to war would not just affect Darfur. It would severely impact on neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, further destabilizing and endangering the entire region.

A collapse can still be averted, if you the member states will take action now. What should be done? Let me propose the following: All parties to the conflict must be reminded that there can be no military solution in Darfur, and the Government must be convinced that its planned military campaign is a prescription for disaster. AMIS must be funded, strengthened and revitalized to allow it to continue until there is a more effective UN force on the ground. And as we operate in ever more difficult and dangerous environments, humanitarian operations, which represent a lifeline for millions of people in Darfur, must be urgently funded.

Mr. President,

In recent weeks we have all been distracted by developments in other parts of the world. In the meantime in Darfur all of our nightmares have become realities. Over the last two years the international humanitarian community has gave a glimmer of hope to the suffering of Darfur - we made significant progress in improving health, education, nutrition and water and sanitation indicators to commendable levels. This has been achieved through the generous contribution of donors and more importantly the courage - and tragically the lives - of humanitarians on the ground.

This can all be lost within weeks - not months. I cannot give a starker warning than to say that we are at a point where even hope may escape us and the lives of hundreds of thousands could be needlessly lost. The Security Council and member states around this table with influence on the parties to the conflict must act now. Hundreds of humanitarian organizations from around the world are watching what you will be doing or may refrain from doing in the coming weeks.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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