10/02/2004
Press Release
AFR/830
IHA/861



SUDAN –- UN WELCOMES ANNOUNCEMENT OF INCREASED ACCESS TO DARFUR


NEW YORK, 10 February (OCHA) -– In a statement, the President of the Sudan, Omer Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir, has promised to provide access to aid workers so that they can reach millions of suffering civilians in the Darfur region.


“This represents a breakthrough, since for months we have been prevented from reaching large numbers of displaced civilians in what is one of the worst emergencies in Africa”, said Jan Egeland, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.  “We must now ensure that this positive development becomes a reality for the people of Darfur.  The United Nations humanitarian community is ready to seize this opportunity to increase the amount of assistance we provide within Darfur”, he added.


“The people of Darfur have endured a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, but the humanitarian community has been largely unable to assist because we have been prevented from delivering adequate aid up to now”, Mr. Egeland said.  Nearly 3 million people affected by the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region have remained beyond the reach of aid agencies trying to provide essential humanitarian aid.  United Nations aid agencies estimate that they have been able to reach only 15 per cent of people in need.


“The statistics from Darfur are staggering”, Mr. Egeland said.  Half of Darfur’s 6 million people are directly affected by the conflict.  The number of people who have fled from Darfur to Chad has nearly doubled to 110,000 in the past three months.  More than 700,000 people have been internally displaced in the past year.


The United Nations has been concerting its efforts to improve access in Darfur.  Tom Vraalsen, the Special Envoy for the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Needs in the Sudan went to Chad last month and has been asked to return to the Sudan as soon as possible, to follow-up on this breakthrough.


Since the fighting started between rebel groups, militias and the Government of Sudan a year ago, the United Nations has consistently received reports of systematic raids against civilian populations.  These attacks have reportedly included burning and looting of villages, large-scale killings, and abductions.  Humanitarian workers have also been targeted, with staff being abducted and relief trucks looted.


The Darfur region covers roughly one fifth of the Sudan’s territory and is home to 6 million people.  The Sudan, Africa’s largest country, is also home to its longest running conflict.  It is estimated that more than 2 million people have died because of the Sudan’s conflict and that 4 million people have been driven from their homes.


This breakthrough was announced in a letter received earlier today from the Permanent Mission of the Sudan to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva.


For further information, please call Stephanie Bunker (OCHA New York), tel.: +917 367 5126; or Elizabeth Byrs (OCHA Geneva), tel.: +41 22 917 2653.


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