UN official completes mission to Sudan, including Darfur displaced persons camp
After holding “positive” meetings with Government officials in Sudan, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator today wrapped up a five-day trip to the country, where he was initially unable to enter a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the troubled Darfur region but a day later visited a different IDP camp.
Under-Secretary–General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said his discussions with Sudanese Government officials focused on humanitarian access, the need for security guarantees so aid workers can operate safely, accountability for crimes when they happen, and addressing the significant “bureaucratic impediments” that affect the aid community.
Mr. Holmes said the meetings with Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha and Senior Assistant to the President Minni Minnawi, as well as with representatives of the donor community, were “very useful” and conducted in a “positive spirit.”
The talks in Khartoum capped the Emergency Relief Coordinator’s five-day mission to Sudan, the first he has made since taking up the post last month.
“The Government acknowledges there are problems that need to be fixed and has promised to take the concerns of the humanitarian community seriously,” said Mr. Holmes. “I feel there is a genuine commitment to work with the United Nations agencies and NGOs to address the concerns related to humanitarian access and space.”
Speaking to the press in Khartoum, the Emergency Relief Coordinator noted the extraordinary humanitarian achievements that have been made to date, especially given the massive scale of the problems faced.
But at the same time, he voiced concern over how long such a massive humanitarian response could be continued, as large populations had been displaced for several years, while ever more newly displaced persons continue to flow into existing camps. Insecurity also poses problems, he added, noting that aid workers and civilians continued to be the victims of unpredictable and violent attacks.
Mr. Holmes said Saturday’s planned visit to Kassab Camp was abandoned due to communication problems, and not because of any deliberate attempt to exclude him from the camp. “But if this can happen to a senior United Nations official, you can imagine the effect on an ordinary humanitarian worker,” he noted. “We need to see a return to the commitments made in the Moratorium and actual implementation on the ground.”
In Darfur yesterday, he visited the town of Deribat in the rebel-held Jebel Marra region, where clashes between Government and rebel forces have terrorized the population and displaced thousands of people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which Mr. Holmes heads.
Civilians there expressed an urgent need for life-saving supplies such as drugs and medical supplies, which are not reaching the area, OCHA said.
Mr. Holmes then toured the Al Salaam IDP camp, which has reached maximum capacity, with a current population of 45,000 and a rapidly reducing water supply. He met with IDP representatives, and was “particularly impressed with innovative solutions to problems, such as the fuel-efficient stoves that are used in order to minimize the need for women to collect firewood,” according to OCHA, which noted that leaving the protection of the camps to collect firewood exposed women to ongoing violence, including rape.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator heads next to eastern Chad, where he plans to visit refugee camps and IDP settlements and meet with various Government, UN and humanitarian representatives, before continuing to the capital, N’Djamena, and then on to the Central African Republic (CAR) later in the week.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and at least 2 million others forced from their homes since 2003 in Darfur, an impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank. A peace deal signed last year by some of the parties failed to end the fighting between Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups, and the conflict is starting to spill over into Chad and the CAR.
On the political front today, UN Special Envoy Jan Eliasson and African Union (AU) Special Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim held a series of meetings in Khartoum today aimed at revitalizing the Darfur peace process.
They met with Sudanese First Vice President and President of the Government of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir, as well as with opposition leaders Hassan Al Turabi, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugoud and Sadiq Al Mahdi “and exchanged views with them on the way forward, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said. Currently, the UN is deploying a “light support package” to buttress the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur, but plans for expanding the support under a three-phase approach have stalled over what one senior UN official termed “fundamental strategic differences” between the world body and Sudan.
In another development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), together with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, have begun the first round of Sudan’s 2007 National Immunization Days against polio today, targeting an estimated 8.7 million children under the age of five across the country.
WHO Country Representative Dr. Mohamed Abdurrab noted that the success of polio immunization efforts in 2006 had resulted in no cases being reported anywhere in Sudan, compared to 155 in 2004-2005.