Darfur: Will the provision of humanitarian assistance continue?

Despite the fact that efforts of humanitarian workers in Darfur have been jeopardized by widespread insecurity, for the moment the humanitarian situation remains relatively stable. Nonetheless, both residents and displaced populations in Darfur are in an extremely precarious position, and even seemingly minor incidents can have a catastrophic impact on their lives.

As the International Contact Group on Darfur/Sudan convenes in Paris on June 25, 2007, Action Against Hunger offers these comments on the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

Displaced persons camps reach full capacity

Thousands of Sudanese continue to be displaced in Darfur every week, and many of the camps for internally displaced persons have reached their full capacity, especially in southern Darfur. An estimated 140,000 people are reported to have fled their villages since January 2007 due to continued fighting in certain rural areas. These people have sought refuge in the existing larger camps around the major cities or they have formed new camps in rural areas.

An alarming nutritional situation

Action Against Hunger’s recent nutritional survey in As Salam camp in southern Darfur revealed a global malnutrition rate of 23.3%--far above the emergency threshold. Some of the chief causes for this distressing situation is the lack of access to drinking water and sanitation as well as poorly developed income-generating activities for displaced families.

Increased vulnerability with the onset of the rainy season and insecurity

The commencement of the rainy season coincides with the hunger-gap period, the time of the year when rural populations have used up their entire food reserves. Hence it is essential for humanitarian workers to access these populations. Heavy rains make roads inaccessible, however, a problem compounded by the insecurity that continues to make assistance to these areas difficult. Since the beginning of this year, more than 60 vehicles belonging to international non-governmental aid organizations have been attacked and stolen. Such acts of violence have been on the increase, partly due to a feeling of impunity by the armed factions controlling these rural areas.

Alternative solutions for access to rural areas

With hostile weather conditions and insecurity constraining the work of humanitarian organizations, innovative solutions are sought. Helicopters are used to reach certain rural areas that are inaccessible by road so that vital assistance to populations who depend on it for their survival can continue.

In this already tense context, Action Against Hunger makes the following recommendations:

  • A political solution must be negotiated urgently. Negotiations must include all parties involved in the conflict, while still taking into account the work and perception of humanitarian organizations by the local population and the armed forces deployed in the area.
  • The air-support system of the United Nations, which is already in place in Darfur, must be strengthened, especially the helicopter fleet, to provide humanitarian actors with access to zones that otherwise cannot be reached.