Darfur’s humanitarian crisis could spiral if the fighting and kidnappings of foreigners that are restricting the world’s largest aid operation are not halted, the UN aid chief John Holmes said on Sunday.
Holmes told Reuters during a visit to Sudan that insecurity caused by ongoing fighting between rebels and government, tribal clahes and abductions targeting foreign workers had forced some aid agencies to scale down operations and others to withdraw. “Unless we can somehow get a grip on the insecurity and the kidnapping, we may see a steady erosion of the number of people prepared to work here,” Holmes said in Nyala, South Darfur.
He said the International Committee of the Red Cross, after a number of kidnappings of its staff, had suspended much of its operations and others had pulled out completely. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled 13 aid agencies last year after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant accusing him of war crimes and this left a limited number of groups willing or able to plug the gaps.
“There’s a real problem if that process continues because then we might find ourselves in a downward spiral. If the organisations continue to leave who is going to pick up the slack?” he said.
An American female aid worker from the U.S. Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse remains in captivity after being abducted just outside Nyala town more than two weeks ago.
Darfur’s humanitarian operation, which costs $1 billion a year, is the largest in the world with more than 4 million people, or two-thirds of the population, requiring aid. Two million of those live in miserable camps which have become slums surrounding Darfur’s main towns and the United Nations estimates some 300,000 have died since 2003. Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid west.
An ensuing counter-insurgency campaign mobilised militias to quell the revolt, many of whom still carry weapons and enjoy impunity from crimes such as kidnappings, rape and looting. Washington dubbed the violence genocide, an allegation Bashir ridicules. The ICC is investigating whether genocide charges can be brought against the leader already accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Bashir won April elections that were marred by opposition boycotts citing fraud.
Holmes said the Darfur humanitarian crisis was held hostage to the lack of progress on achieving a comprehensive peace deal. “The discussions that are going on in Doha I hope they will succeed but the omens do not look very promising to me at the moment. (Peace) is desperately what we need to see to stop going round in these same circles for years to come.”
Darfur’s original rebel group leaders are not attending the Qatari-hosted talks. This month clashes reignited across Darfur.