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Official Sounds Alarm Over Inaction on Darfur

Top UN Humanitarian Aid Official Sounds Alarm Over World Inaction on Darfur

New York, May 4 2006 4:00PM

With renewed carnage in Sudan’s Darfur region spilling into Chad and displacing hundreds thousands more in the past few months, the United Nations top relief official today warned that humanitarian disaster there was imminent if the world did not take quick strong action to get aid in, protect the population and secure a political settlement that stopped the violence once and for all.

“If we are to avoid an imminent, massive loss of life, we need immediate action – from the government of Sudan, the rebels, U.N. Security Council members and donor governments,” Jan Egeland the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator wrote in an editorial published in The Wall Street Journal on the eve of his first visit to the strife-torn region since being blocked from visiting by the Government during his trip to Africa last month.

Mr. Egeland said over the last two years, there had been huge progress on the humanitarian front in Darfur that was now in danger of being swept away by renewed violence from all sides, increased obstructionism from the Sudanese Government and a dwindling of funding from donors.

“In 2004, we had only 230 relief workers on the ground to assist 350,000 people. Today we help ten times that number – half of Darfur’s population,” he wrote. “Working together, U.N. agencies and NGOs have reduced deaths among those displaced in Darfur by two-thirds from their 2004 levels while halving malnutrition rates in 2005.”

However, the situation has returned to the ethnic cleansing he first warned of two years ago: “Marauding, government-backed militias prowl the countryside on a scorched-earth campaign of terror, systematically destroying lives and livelihoods with impunity. Rebel attacks continue against civilians as well as humanitarian operations,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, funding for aid has all but dropped off, and donor support in Europe and the Gulf States is seriously flagging, with lifesaving aid receiving less than 20 per cent of funds needed and cut in food rations already announced.

“We urgently need progress on all fronts – security, humanitarian access and political engagement - to prevent the death toll in Darfur from rising exponentially,” he said.

Political progress was particularly important, he stressed, and for that reason he called not only for an intensification of the peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria but for a workable peace to be implemented in every village throughout the region.

“Unarmed relief workers can keep people alive today, but they cannot prevent them from being murdered, raped or forced from their homes tomorrow,” he wrote, urging: “Let us not repeat the tragic error of Bosnia’s “safe areas” before Srebrenica. Humanitarianism should never be used as a fig leaf for political inaction.”

In order to move ahead on the political front, today, at UN Headquarters in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed with key diplomats the “critical situation” of the Darfur talks, which passed a 30 April deadline set by the African Union this past weekend. Mr. Annan stressed “the need for all of us, particularly those with influence, to press the parties to seize the moment and make an agreement, a real agreement, that will stand the test of time on the ground.”

Addressing the press after meeting with the Group of Friends on Darfur -- made up of major donors nations, African countries the Arab League, the African Union (AU) and the European Commission – Mr. Annan said the group also discussed the need to strengthen the AU force in Darfur, because that force must be initially responsible for implementing any peace agreement signed, since the UN force that has been proposed would take time to deploy.

Replying to questions about the response of the group, he said: “I think the members seem anxious to help, and they are going to do whatever they can, both in terms of sending messages to the people in Abuja and to the government, and also trying to help us raise money for the humanitarian activities.

“In addition to that, President [Olusegun] Obasanjo is bringing together a group of about five or six African leaders who will also appeal to the parties to settle their differences and sign an agreement,” he added.


ENDS

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