Joint UN and Sudanese assessment of Darfur aid reveals critical gaps

24 March 2009

United Nations humanitarian officials today commended the cooperation of Sudanese Government staff on an assessment of relief needs in war-torn Darfur, while they warned of high risks ahead following the ouster of crucial aid groups.

While a “significant effort” is being made by the Government, the UN and remaining aid groups to plug some of the immediate gaps, “these are band-aid solutions, if I can put it that way, not long-term solutions,” John Holmes, Emergency Relief Coordinator told reporters in New York.

For the long-term, the survey, conducted between 11 and 19 March, discovered gaps in food aid; health and nutrition; non-food items and shelter; and water, sanitation and hygiene upon which some 4.7 million Darfur residents depend for survival.

Sudan decided to eject 13 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provided much of that aid on 4 March, immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir. The operations of three national NGOs have also been suspended.

Concrete plans will have to be put in place if these gaps are to be bridged in a sustainable, long-term manner two months from now, Ameerah Haq, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, said in the country’s capital, Khartoum, as she released the results of the joint assessment.

Funding, plus adequate technical management, coordination and administration, previously provided by the experienced NGOs, must be replaced, Ms. Haq stressed.

In the area of water, she said that currently, over 850,000 people are still being served thanks to the quick engagement of the Government’s water department, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and national NGOs.

However, within four weeks existing funds for spare parts and fuel for water pumps and other necessities will be depleted, while sanitary facilities will need urgent maintenance to prevent disease outbreaks.

While the Sudanese Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) are trying to address the gaps in health care, according to the assessment, salaries and staff are in place only until the end of April and up to 650,000 people currently do not have access to full health care.

The survey showed that food needs have been covered for March and April for about 1.1 million people, thanks to a one-time distribution by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) through local food committees. However, by the beginning of May, just as the gap between harvest times approaches, further distributions will not be made unless WFP finds new partners, Ms. Haq said.

On housing, Ms. Haq said that about 692,400 people waiting for shelter materials before the rains begin will not receive them unless the UN Joint Logistics Centre finds partners to carry out the distributions and gains access to existing distribution lists.

In all sectors, she said, expertise in technical assessments, planning, programme design and implementation, monitoring and evaluation has been lost, and the quality of relief, even if taken over by national NGOs, could suffer.

Administrative hurdles, such as the lack of travel permits and technical agreements, also hinder the work of NGOs as well as line ministries in their work, she said, although she welcomed the Government’s commitment to fast track the technical agreements of all remaining NGOs.

Since the decision to oust the NGOs, besides trying to fill aid gaps, the UN has continued to advocate for a reversal of the expulsions, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been in close contact with Arab and African leaders and members of the Security Council.

An estimated 300,000 people have died and another 3 million have been displaced in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN relief official calls on Sudan to respect humanitarian aid agreements

A top United Nations humanitarian official today urged the Government of Sudan to respect existing agreements and its own laws on the operation of relief groups in strife-torn Darfur, 13 of which have been ousted, resulting, he said, in “significant” threats to the dependent population.