Highlighting the difficulties in getting urgent humanitarian aid to the civilian populations of conflict-ravaged Somalia, Darfur and Gaza, the top United Nations emergency relief official today called for greater access and protection for humanitarian workers and more assistance for those in need.
“As humanitarians, we try to reach all communities in need everywhere, always, [but] we have however consistent access problems, very often in violation of international law and systematically in some countries,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told correspondents in New York.
Somalia, he said, has been “perhaps the most difficult case for the humanitarian community over the last 15 years,” because of reduced access that has continued in recent months because of renewed fighting, but he added that a UN mission to Mogadishu on Sunday had agreed to have “systematic dialogue” with the Islamic Courts to get access to the capital’s civilian population.
He said that the Union of Islamic Courts that now appeared to be in control of Mogadishu had asked international humanitarian organizations to step up their operations, saying they would allow freedom of movement and access and he emphasized how much assistance form the world community would be needed to rebuild the country.
“If the international community has hopes of re-establishing a functioning Somalia that would be democratic, that would not harbour terrorists, we have to have a massive international political, diplomatic, security, humanitarian and developmental investment.”
Turning to the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, Mr. Egeland painted a similarly grim picture, highlighting in particular the displacement of 8,000 villagers from their homes because of attacks in the last 10 days and also re-emphasizing the need for a UN force to take over from the African Union troops in the region (AMIS), something the Union has itself called for but which the Somali Government so far opposes.
“In Darfur security is non-existent for the civilian population as it is non-existent for the humanitarians still. New frontlines are opening all the time in new areas,” he said, adding that some of the most recent fighting had been between different factions of the former Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).
“The infighting has actually displaced 8,000 civilians over the last 10 days alone. The attacks have included indiscriminate killings, mass rape, beatings, looting and the burning of villages.
“Humanitarian colleagues are still being attacked on an almost daily basis…We need a UN force on the ground, as it is now, it is unstoppable. Our AMIS colleagues are not able to protect effectively the civilian population nor the humanitarian operation – it is completely unsustainable as it is.”
On the worsening violence in Gaza, Mr. Egeland repeated international calls for both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to end the conflict, and also highlighted that the UN’s latest humanitarian appeal for the occupied Palestinian territories had so far received less than a third of what is required.
“The Palestinians should immediately release the [Israeli] soldier, should immediately stop further attacks on Israeli soldiers and Israeli civilians. Israel has to back down from its military operation that is further dismantling vital Palestinian infrastructure,” he said, appealing also for “free passage of humanitarian goods into Gaza” and the lifting of other restrictions at the frontier that are affecting the welfare of civilians.
“We have appealed to the international community for $385 million for our revised consolidated appeal for the occupied Palestinian territories [but] as of the 7 July we have less than one third of this, 31 per cent, a total of $117 million has been funded, so we need money, as we need access, as we need security,” he said.