Sudan: confirming massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur, UN demands better security

1 May 2004

The United Nations warned today that the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan, will worsen dramatically unless security there is immediately improved and humanitarian agencies have better access to those in need.

A UN mission which just completed a three-day visit to the area called on the Sudanese Government to accelerate its efforts to control armed militias, provide security and protection for displaced people, and facilitate humanitarian access.

"Displaced families are living in difficult and unacceptable conditions and they continue to fear for their lives," said the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, James Morris, who led the team.

He cited Mornei as one part of Darfur that has been “overwhelmed” by the presence of over 60,000 displaced people who are almost completely reliant on outside assistance. Health care is limited to a single, small and vastly over-stretched facility there, while living conditions are “abysmal,” he said. “Malnutrition rates among children are soaring and few if any are going to school.”

”This pattern appears to be repeated across Darfur," he observed.

More than a million people have been forced from their homes by the armed conflict that started in February 2003. Many thousands have fled Sudan to neighbouring Chad. Repeated attacks by militia including the burning of villages, widespread looting and the systematic destruction of livelihoods have left displaced people destitute. Basic social services such as health care and education have collapsed.

Despite a ceasefire signed on 8 April and a consequent reduction of hostilities between the warring parties, the humanitarian crisis continues. The mission found that people want to return home but are unwilling to do so until they feel reassured that security has been restored.

"We received numerous reports of sexual abuse and harassment that has limited people's access to water, food and firewood,” Mr. Morris reported in the capital Khartoum. “We also witnessed first hand how volatile the security situation is, and the massive human suffering that has been inflicted.”

“People want to go home and some have attempted to do so, but often they end up fleeing again as a result of renewed attacks,” he said. “We fully support people's desire to return home, but they can only do so in a safe environment.”

The UN is urgently appealing for resources to significantly increase its operational capacity, including additional staff, transport and communications to handle the huge humanitarian task in Darfur.

But at the same time, UN officials point out that this push will require fast government approval of applications from humanitarian agencies to expand their work in Darfur.

Most residents will miss this year's planting season, which is due to start in the coming days. Without an adequate harvest at the end of the year, dependence on food aid for displaced and resident populations will extend for at least 18 months, the UN estimates.

The start of the rainy season in June adds to the urgency of providing aid immediately. Heavy rains will make many roads almost impassable. The UN warned that some of the displaced people may become totally cut off at a time when the risk of disease also increases dramatically.