Sunday, June 22, 2008

5 years later another grim forecast for Darfur crisis

UN agencies predict grim year ahead for Darfur due to insecurity and bad harvest
By SARAH EL DEEB , Associated Press

June 22, 2008

KHARTOUM, Sudan - U.N. agencies operating in Darfur warned Sunday that rising insecurity, a bad cereal harvest and the approaching rainy season will make for a particularly bad year for the population of the region.

The vast arid western region of Sudan is the site of the largest humanitarian operation in the world but increased banditry and the coming rainy season, which runs from June through October, will make it even harder for agencies to get food to those that need it.

Mike McDonagh, chief of the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the poor harvest, the inability to transport food, continued displacement and overstretched water resources are combining to create the "perfect storm" in Darfur. He said he expected to see reduction in key indicators of well-being such as consumption of nutritious foods and access to water and medical facilities among Darfuris, who are largely surviving on assistance.

"Four years into a massive operation, where half a million tons of food has gone in every year, where on average 1,000 expatriates have been on the ground with their 15,000 national colleagues, this is the year I think we are going to see a reduction in indicators as a result of this perfect storm," McDonagh told reporters.

About 2.5 million Darfuris have been displaced by the five-year conflict and up to 300,000 killed. The fighting erupted when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the central government in Khartoum accusing it of marginalization and denial of resources.

Fighting and insecurity has left 180,000 displaced this year alone and has forced the World Food Program to halve its food ration, which reaches about 3.6 million at height of the rainy season in August.

The cuts started last month and WFP officials say road attacks and an obligatory police escort to the WFP convoys have both slowed down the delivery. Some 83 WFP trucks have been hijacked since the beginning of this year, including two trucks taken in northern Darfur Sunday, said Kenro Oshidari, the head of the WFP in Sudan.

Another 77 trucks from other agencies have also been hijacked. Already the incidents of violence against humanitarian workers during the first half of this year is equal all of those which took place last year, McDonagh said.

The police escort has been available on average only once a week, said another WFP official, Emilia Casella said, who appealed for relaxing the obligatory escort if the drivers are willing. With only eight days left in June, only 30 percent of the food has been delivered.

The government promised to increase the escorts to every two days, the U.N. officials said.

Ted Chaiban of UNICEF said humanitarian action has been able so far to prevent a serious rise in malnutrition levels according to data available to date.

"The result of all this we are holding the line," Chaiban said. "But we are concerned specifically that if the food ration is not resumed in full, things will deteriorate."

The rise in unrest has also come with increased global food prices and a particularly bad cereal harvest in southern Darfur. UN officials say displaced farmers have also been kept away from their land because of the insecurity, and aid workers haven't been able to reach farmers to prepare for the coming growing season.

© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

No comments: