4 million people in Darfur now need humanitarian aid, top UN relief official says

Jan Egeland

20 November 2006 – The number of people in need of aid to survive in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region has surged by hundreds of thousands to 4 million in just the past six months, according to the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“Never would I have thought that the fear, the angst among the civilian population of Darfur would remain the same after three long years,” Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a news conference on Saturday in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, after cutting short his visit when the Government denied him permission to travel outside the Darfur state capitals on the grounds that it was too dangerous.

On his last visit in May to Darfur, where fighting between the Government, pro-government militias and rebels has killed more than 200,000 and uprooted over 2 million more in the last three years, Mr. Egeland put the total of those depending on humanitarian aid for survival at over 3 million. On his first visit two and a half years ago the number was 1 million.

“In many ways, this is now, I think, a moment of truth here in Darfur, for our responsibility to protect,” he said, before returning to New York, where he will report to the Security Council on Wednesday.

“In the United Nations, a lot of world leaders from all over the world, from northern countries, western, eastern, southern countries, they all swore to protect civilian populations,” he added, referring to a decision taken at the 2005 World Summit in New York.

On that occasion, national leaders from across the globe expressed their readiness to take action when “national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Said Mr. Egeland: “We have a responsibility to protect. We are not living up to that responsibility in Darfur today.”

In the hospital in El Geneina, capital of West Darfur state, Mr. Egeland met with children who had been deliberately shot. “How can anybody shoot a two-year old girl through the neck? How can any man do that deliberately? This is terror. I do not know any word for it… it is defined as terror,” he said.

“This night, civilians were attacked and killed in the Jebel Marra, blankets were looted, blankets we had provided because it is freezing cold in the next weeks and months in the Jebel Marra,” he added, referring to one area of the conflict. “There seems to be a deliberate attempt to inject suffering on the civilian population.”

He noted that there was enough guilt on all sides for him not to single out any one party, and he called on them all to end the hostilities and seize the opportunity offered by last week’s agreement between Sudan’s Government, the UN and the African Union (AU) for a hybrid UN-AU operation in Darfur of some 20,000 personnel.

“So, the jury is really out now: is this, the largest humanitarian operation on earth going to continue to succeed or is it going to collapse?” he asked of the current efforts to assist the 4 million in need of aid. “I hope we can now have all good forces in Sudan and internationally succeed in joining forces to have it succeed.”

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) today reported several instances of forcible seizure and looting of UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) vehicles and equipment. In North Darfur, the town of Birmaza was attacked by soldiers and pro-Government Janjaweed militia on Wednesday and Thursday.

The violence caused some 3,000 people to flee as the attackers looted the premises of a UN agency and burned the offices of an international NGO. On Saturday, rebels retaliated against government forces near El Fasher in an incident that left some 100 fighters dead.

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