The United Nations’ top aid official said yesterday that the quality of humanitarian response in some areas of North Sudan is still worse than it was last year before President Omar Al Bashir shut down 16 aid groups. John Holmes, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, was speaking at a press conference in Khartoum.
Last year in March, immediately after the criminal indictment of President Omar Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court, Sudan expelled 13 international aid organizations and dissolved three national non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Holmes said yesterday that “the quality of response and the capacity to respond in some areas and in remote areas in some sectors is not yet as good as before the expulsion as is also clear in the response to the east and in the Three Areas [Abyei, the Nuba mountains, and Southern Blue Nile] .”
Holmes said that insecurity could reduce humanitarian capacity further, mentioning violence between rebels and the government and among some Arab tribes. He also noted that there is still widespread banditry, hijacking and since last year a new trend of kidnappings of aid workers. However, he observed that the main gap left by the expulsion of the NGOs has been filled. “I think overall the humanitarian response is in reasonable shape in Darfur – we have a better supply of resources than we do in the South. … But there are concerns regarding access in Darfur. Access is a fundamental for humanitarian operations. If we don’t have access, we could not help the people we want to help. There are particular concerns in areas where there has been conflict recently like the areas east of the Jebel Marra. The Government has assured us that we have free access, in principle, to where we want to go in Darfur. What we want to see is these assurances translated into reality.” UN agencies and partner organizations have had difficulty accessing parts of the Jebel Marra region for the last several months. Much of the area is a rebel stronghold and has been under attack.
Holmes also spoke with deep concern about food shortages in South Sudan. The United Nations estimates that 15 percent of the population of southern Sudan suffers from acute malnutrition, with women and children disproportionately affected. Holmes: “We are facing a humanitarian crisis there once again with a combination of poor rains last year, crop failures as a result and poor pasture for the animals. This has been increased with insecurity and malnutrition as well as higher prices in basic foods. The number of severe food insecure people has risen from 1 million to 1.5 million this year with those moderately food insecure also rising up to 1.8 million.”
The UN aid chief finished a four-day tour of Sudan on Sunday. He had meetings in Wau State, Warrap State, Central Equatoria State and South Darfur State. He had to cancel meetings with local leaders in El Fasher, North Darfur, because a sandstorm grounded his flight from Nyala. This was his fifth visit to Sudan since 2007. Humanitarian planners have requested US$ 1,9 billion for aid operations in Sudan in 2010, making the situation in Sudan the largest aid operation in the world.