Sick and stranded

The most vulnerable people in Darfur face a high risk of “increased morbidity and mortality” following the expulsion of 16 aid agencies three weeks ago, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for Sudan said earlier this week.

Ameerah Haq said that although the immediate needs of the 4.7-million people reliant on relief in Darfur were mostly being met through stop-gap measures, up to 650 000 people were without access to full healthcare. Feeding programmes for malnourished children and pregnant women have also been disrupted.

Many clinics remain closed, while others are being run by local staff at a basic level. One agency today expressed concern about reports that “non-health professionals” in displaced persons’ camps were using the medical equipment it had been forced to leave behind.

Thirteen foreign agencies and three local organisations responsible for at least half the aid provision in Darfur were expelled on March 4, minutes after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir.

Humanitarian officials have warned that Sudan’s pledge to fill the aid gap is unlikely to succeed while supplies of food, medicine and water are all under threat.
Darfur’s main rebel group has urged people to reject all government assistance.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing a two-month ration to 1.1-million displaced people who were served by Care, Solidarites, Action Against Hunger and Save the Children, which have all been expelled. But Rachid Jafaar, a WFP official, said that this was unsustainable and the organisation could not guarantee that all the people affected, at 140 sites, would receive food.

The situation has been exacerbated by a surge in attacks on aid workers, which has severely restricted the activities of some of the agencies left on the ground. Three foreign Medecins Sans Frontières workers were kidnapped for several days by a militia supporting Bashir and a local employee of a Canadian aid agency was shot dead on Monday night.

NGO officials say Sudan’s national security service has been overruling the state humanitarian affairs commission on issues of which aid groups are allowed to work and where. Haq said Bashir’s government, which worked with the UN on the needs-assessment mission and is supplying services through the health ministry and water department, needed to take urgent action to improve aid provision.

“Prevailing bureaucratic impediments should be lifted and security conditions should not complicate issues such as access if the people of Darfur are not to end up facing the most serious upheaval in years,” she said.

Despite pleas from the international community Sudan’s government has refused to reconsider the decision to expel the aid organisations, which it accuses of collaborating with the ICC.—

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