The United Nations’ most senior humanitarian official issued a dire warning today about the situation in Darfur, stating that “a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale” looms within weeks unless the Security Council acts immediately to deal with the spiralling violence, looting and internal displacement.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a Council meeting that “we could see hundreds of thousands of deaths” in the strife-torn Sudanese region if aid operations – already at grave risk because of attacks against individual workers, dramatically reduced access to those in need, and massive funding shortfalls – collapse.
“In Darfur all of our nightmares have become realities,” he said, telling reporters later the situation is worse than at any time since early 2004. The humanitarian lifeline for three million people is in jeopardy and “we are at a point where even hope may escape us.”
Mr. Egeland’s closed-door briefing to the Council comes amid a dramatic worsening of conditions since early May, when the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed by the Sudanese Government and some of the rebel groups it has been fighting since 2003 in the vast and impoverished Darfur region alongside its border with Chad.
The Under-Secretary-General said clashes with those rebel groups that did not sign that the DPA have “resulted in hundreds of deaths, despicable gender-based violence, systematic looting and an estimated 50,000 displaced in the last eight weeks.”
At just one camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Darfur, he said, there are reports that more than 200 women and girls have been sexually assaulted in the past five weeks, while 200 others have been beaten by assailants who lie in wait a few miles outside the camp.
Many farmers in North and West Darfur states are also reporting that they are being beaten or harassed – and in some cases killed – to prevent them from cultivating the land.
Mr. Egeland, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the number of attacks against humanitarian workers has jumped so much in recent months that many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are contemplating withdrawing their operations.
This violence and insecurity have restricted the reach of UN agencies and NGOs to much of the region: Mr. Egeland said the UN currently has no access to the northern sections of West and North Darfur states, as well as large areas in the Jebel Marra area.
Despite the deteriorating situation, the UN is facing a shortfall of nearly $300 million for its humanitarian operations this year in Darfur, or what Mr. Egeland described as “the final piece of this bleak scenario.”
He called for urgent international action from the Council or any UN Member States with influence to the parties to the conflict, arguing “there can be no military solution in Darfur, and the Government must be convinced that its planned military campaign is a prescription for disaster.”
Mr. Egeland also expressed concern about the impact of the current African Union (AU) mission in Darfur, saying some rebel groups consider the AU to be their enemy and biased in favour of the Government and its associated supporters.
Council members agreed on Thursday to proceed with today’s meeting, despite a request from the Sudanese Government for a postponement “to enable better preparations.”
Council members have before them a draft resolution circulated by the United Kingdom that outlines the size and scope of a possible UN peacekeeping operation. But Khartoum has said on several occasions that it is opposed to the UN replacing the AU in Darfur.
Scores of thousands of people have been killed in the past three years and 2 million others have been forced to flee their homes amid fighting between the Sudanese armed forces, allied militias and rebel groups.