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Mixed Progress In Helping Civilians In Darfur

UN Relief Official Says Mixed Progress In Helping Civilians In Darfur, Sudan

United Nations agencies are making progress in bringing food and shelter to the more than one million people from the Darfur region of Sudan who are internally displaced or refugees because of conflict there, but they remain “way behind” in providing safe water, sanitation, immunization and nutrition, the top UN humanitarian official said today.

In remarks to journalists, Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said UN agencies and their non-governmental organization (NGO) partners were still being hampered in reaching civilians in Darfur and offering help.

He said “thousands of lives” are at risk during the current rainy season if the UN and other humanitarian organizations are not able to provide more help to Darfur’s civilians.

More than a million people are internally displaced and at least 150,000 have spilled over the border into Chad since fighting broke out early last year between the Sudanese Government and two rebel groups. A UN report has also found that Government-sponsored Arab militias known as the Janjaweed have ransacked or destroyed villages in the region, murdering or raping many civilians.

Mr. Egeland said that, “to me, the massive depopulation of the areas” by the Janjaweed constituted ethnic cleansing against the local black African population. But he said some observers said the pattern of killing between ethnic groups was not so consistent as to equate to ethnic cleansing.

“It’s not genocide yet and we can prevent it” from becoming so, he added.

Mr. Egeland, who is also Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN, said too many NGO workers are still being prevented from providing assistance to civilians in Darfur because of visa delays by Sudanese authorities. Many vehicles used by aid agencies are also being held up at customs sites and, once cleared, he added, many no longer have radios and are thus inoperable.

“People are dying because we were denied access for so long. People will be dying because we are still not able to get through all the things that we should be able to get through,” he said.

But some obstacles had been removed by Khartoum and the UN and its sister agencies are on target to provide food to 800,000 people by the end of this month and two million people by the end of October, he said. They are also on schedule to give shelter to 600,000 people this month.

Mr. Egeland said his concerns focused on providing safe water, sanitation, immunization and nutrition, especially for children, as the UN was “way behind” on these issues.

His comments come as the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) continues her inspection tour of Darfur to observe the problems in the region first-hand and UNICEF’s response.

Executive Director Carol Bellamy met local officials yesterday in Nyala and toured a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Kass in south Darfur, and was scheduled to travel today to El Geneina in west Darfur to visit relief sites.

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced it had revised the budget of its emergency appeal for Chad – where the steadily growing number of refugees from Darfur may top 200,000 later this year – to $55 million from $20.8 million.

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