20 March 2009 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.
“We want to engage in transparent and productive dialogue with the Government based on these laws and agreements,” Rashid Khalikov, Director of the New York section of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the Security Council.
Sudan decided to begin ejecting 13 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) 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.
Mr. Khalikov noted with additional concern that on 15 March, Mr. Bashir spoke of the possible departure of all foreign humanitarian organizations in Sudan in a year's time, even if the violence and displacement in Darfur continues.
An estimated 300,000 people have died and another 3 million have been displaced in the western region of Sudan, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003. Around 4.7 million people in the region depend on lifesaving aid.
“As the conflict continues, and as many parts of Darfur continue to be unstable, or are under the influence of the rebel groups, the work of the United Nations and its partners will continue to be vital in helping Sudanese citizens affected by conflict receive the aid to which they have the right,” Mr. Khalikov said.
Unfortunately, the ability to provide that aid has been seriously compromised by the decisions of the Government Sudan, he added, citing a new “atmosphere of fear and uncertainty facing all aid
He said the expulsion of the 13 organizations had been followed by an increase in violence against the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and aid groups, along with the seizure of humanitarian assets by the Government.
The official urged the Government to end those practices, to minimize its rhetoric against foreigners and to ensure the safety and security of all UN and associated staff. He also called on armed groups in Darfur to take active steps to ensure the safety of UN and NGO staff.
“We must find a way to decrease tensions and ensure the timely and sustainable provision of protection and humanitarian assistance, based on the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, and impartiality,” he stressed.
Mr. Khalikov said that much more would be known about the impact of the aid groups' ouster when the outcome of a joint assessment mission undertaken by the Government of Sudan and the UN is made public on 22 March.
It is already known, however, that a dangerous situation has arisen due to the absence of anyone able to carry out immunizations to prevent the spread of a meningitis outbreak in the Jebel Mara and Kalma refugee camps, he noted.
The assessments concentrated on four life-saving sectors: water, sanitation, and hygiene health and nutrition, food aid and non-food items and shelter, he said.
At the same time, he stated, the UN has continued to advocate, at all levels, for a reversal of the expulsion decision, and the Secretary-General has been in close contact with Arab and African leaders and members of the Council.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced it has started a one-time food distribution which will provide two months' worth of food rations for 1.1 million beneficiaries, organized through existing food distribution committees in each of the three Darfur States.
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