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January 23, 2011

Denied full access to displaced and fearing expulsion, UN is caving in to Khartoum

The results of a study from Tufts University "Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur" come as no surprise to Sudan watchers, or anyone in Darfur. The report, not yet published, is analyzed by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) "UN Accused of Caving In to Khartoum Over Darfur" which lays out the ways in which the UN, UNAMID, the UN/AU peacekeeping force and international NGOs are complicit in obscuring the on-going atrocities and suffering in the Darfur region.

IWPR: "Amid growing levels of malnutrition, illness and instability in Darfur displacement camps, United Nations aid and peacekeeping agencies are being accused of capitulating to pressure and interference from the Sudanese government and failing in their duty to protect civilians. This comes as conditions in IDP camps deteriorate, with the government delaying food and medical supplies and many children often too hungry to go to school. One Sudanese opposition politician interviewed for this report claimed that some of the weakest camp inhabitants have started to die because of the shortages"

The IWPR report contains interviews with displaced Darfuris; Nils Kastberg, head of UNICEF for Darfur; a number of UN officials speaking confidentially, diplomats in Sudan; Sudanese health workers; human rights experts (particularly Jehanne Henry, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch); a lawyer for an international relief organization; Richard Williamson, former U.S. special envoy for Sudan; a leading (unnamed) Sudanese political figure; and Salih Osman, a Khartoum-based lawyer. On the basis of these interviews and other research IPWR concludes:
"According to UN officials who spoke to IWPR, the Sudanese government is actively preventing UN agencies which operate on the ground from accessing information necessary for compiling much needed reports on the humanitarian situation in the region."

Because Khartoum expelled 13 international humanitarian organizations in March 2009- "UN agencies feel they must tread very carefully":
A UN source told IWPR "this requires us to be careful not to describe all access problems as the government deliberately trying to obstruct humanitarian aid. We don't have the access we'd like into camps in Darfur, or the knowledge we need." UN and diplomatic sources who spoke to IWPR say Khartoum is deliberately undermining humanitarian efforts.

"UNICEF reported early last year that as many as 21 nutritional surveys were conducted since June 2009, but only seven have been released by the humanitarian affairs commission [HAC]. Six of those showed [Global Acute] malnutrition rates of between 15 and 29 per cent, the report stated."

Last October, while other UN officials cowered, Nils Kastberg,the head of UNICEF in Sudan stepped forward. He could not have been more clear that Khartoum is preventing his agency from releasing reports about malnutrition in IDP camps. "Part of the problem has been when we conduct surveys to help us address issues, in collaboration with the ministry of health, very often other parts of the government such as the humanitarian affairs commission [HAC] interferes and delays in the release of reports, making it difficult for us to respond [in a] timely [manner]" he said.

In an earlier interview with Radio Dabanga, Kastberg was very specific;
"Sometimes it is security services that hinder access or delay access, sometimes it is the humanitarian affairs office [HAC] that delays the release of nutritional surveys. Sometimes it is delays in granting permissions and visas. It is different sections of different [government] institutions which interfere in our work."

Simultaneously, Georg Charpentier, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan was
disgracefully disingenuous when he claimed (in a written statement to IWPR) "UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan."

But in Darfur there is no tolerance for Charpentier's Khartoum-pleasing statements. "Children don't have enough food to eat," a Sudanese health worker in one of the Darfur camps told IWPR. The Tufts report finds; "crucial information about the humanitarian situation is lacking. There are serious issues with the proper validation of the nutrition survey reports and their immediate release- without such data neither the government nor the international community can properly understand the severity of the humanitarian situation or the efficacy of the response."

IWPR concludes that Khartoum "has consistently worked to thwart the distribution of food, restrict access of relief workers, and control the movements of peacekeepers." Quoting from the Tufts report, IWPR notes, "Where humanitarian access has been maintained there have been serious delays and blocking of key information, for example, the failure to release regular nutrition survey reports, which contain the vital humanitarian indicators that enable the severity of the humanitarian crisis to be judged.." "Crucial information about the humanitarian situation is lacking. There are serious issues with the proper validation of the nutrition survey reports and their immediate release - without such data neither the government nor the international community can properly understand the severity of the humanitarian situation or the efficacy of the response."

UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, in his final (August 2010) briefing of the Security Council:
"The background is that the humanitarian situation in Darfur has been steadily deteriorating again this year, in the context of [renewed violence]. The level of restrictions imposed on humanitarian operations, and of harassment, threats, and violence directed at humanitarian personnel, is once again becoming unacceptable. All this renders the civilians we are trying to help even more vulnerable."

IWPR; Children interviewed by IWPR and Radio Dabanga in the camps say that they are often too hungry to go to school, or have to go out to work to get money to feed their families. One camp leader told IWPR and Radio Dabanga, "There is a big shortage in the food supply, and this is affecting children. Babies who depend on their mothers breastfeeding are suffering mostly because their mothers don't have enough food, and in turn they are not getting enough milk."

Medical workers in the camps say that clinics for children have been shut down since the expulsion of NGOs, and that medical supplies, as well as food, are subject to delays at the hands of the government. "There were special centres to treat malnourished children in camps, but they've been shut down and there are now hundreds of children who are malnourished and need urgent help," another camp leader said.
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