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'The people of Darfur are already hungry'

Peter Martell

Conditions are already tough in Darfur, but many warn things will get worse after Sudan expelled aid groups it accused of collaborating with the ICC.

“Things are hard now, we don’t know what will happen in future,” lamented one resident of a sprawling refugee camp in Darfur where Sudan’s expulsion of aid agencies is threatening a new catastrophe for millions.

“Without support and food there will be big problems,” he told AFP from the tightly packed huts of the Ardamata camp, a grim hut-city in West Darfur that is home to about 27 000 people made homeless by war.

Conditions are already tough in Darfur, scene of the world’s largest humanitarian relief effort where the United Nations says 300 000 people have died since the conflict erupted in 2003.
But many warn things will get far worse after Sudan ordered the expulsion of 13 international relief agencies it accused of collaborating with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We depend on those agencies for our food and healthcare, and medication for our children,” said Ahmed Brinha, who lives in the shacks of Abu Shouk camp in North Darfur.

Khartoum’s move followed the ICC decision on Wednesday to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, accusing him of a campaign of extermination, rape, torture, pillaging and the forcible transfer of civilians.

“If the government does not reconsider its position, with the departure of the NGOs 1,1-million people will be without food, 1,5-million people will be without health care and more than one million without drinking water,” the UN humanitarian coordinator’s office (OCHA) spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told journalists.

The 13 agencies, including Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) account for half of the relief aid delivered in Darfur, OCHA said.

Many of those killed in the six-year conflict pitting Sudanese government forces and allied militias against armed rebel groups have starved to death or succumbed to disease.

Darfur rebels are demanding the aid agencies be allowed to return to help the millions who live in mud huts with little running water and no electricity, and little reprieve from the burning desert sun or torrential seasonal rain.

“The people of Darfur are already hungry—and now the government wants to take their food away,” said Maghoub Hussein, a London-based spokesperson for the Unity faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army.

“This is the government wanting to make the people suffer more, and they must be made to stop.”

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights indicated that it would examine whether the deprivation of aid in a conflict area may constitute violations of international law or war crimes.

However, al-Bashir supporters in Khartoum said there was little support for the aid agencies and vowed to stand by the veteran leader, a soldier who seized power in a coup 20 years ago.

“If they are working for the ICC then we don’t want them in Sudan,” declared one demonstrator at a mass rally in Khartoum on Thursday.

Oil-rich Sudan has seen its income slashed with the slump in the price of crude, and analysts say it would be difficult to replace the support of the relief agencies, even if the political will was there.

“Either the government has an alternative and they plan to support those in Darfur through the state or through national NGOs—but I don’t think they have the capacity for this,” said Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group thinktank.

“The alternative is that they have no solution—which would lead to a very serious decline in the mortality in Darfur.”

Between 200 and 300 foreign staff are estimated to be affected by the expulsion orders, but Sudanese nationals make up the vast majority of the aid agency workforce. Many fear they will lose their jobs.—AFP

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