UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Sudanese government has not done enough to fill gaps in humanitarian assistance caused by its recent expulsion of 13 foreign aid groups from the Darfur region, the U.N. humanitarian chief said on Tuesday.
“These are band-aid solutions, not long-term solutions,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General John Holmes told a news conference called to release the results of a joint UN-Sudanese assessment of the situation in the troubled region of western Sudan.
Sudan ordered the aid agencies out of Darfur after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir earlier this month over alleged war crimes in Darfur. Sudan, which does not recognize the ICC, rejects the charge.
Holmes said that to feed the hungry in Darfur “we need to find some proper partners for the WFP (World Food Program) if the decision is not reversed.” The expulsion of aid groups “seems to us a reckless act,” he added.
A summary of the assessment, co-signed by U.N. and Sudanese officials, said four of the expelled non-governmental organizations (NGOs) served some 1.1 million people.
Among the groups expelled were CARE, Save the Children-US, Solidarites and Action Contre La Faim. Those four also managed feeding programs for children and pregnant and lactating mothers at dozens of special centers. The joint assessment says the services at those centers have been interrupted.
The rebel Justice and Equality Movement told Reuters on Tuesday that four children had died in Shangil Tobaya refugee camp in North Darfur after aid groups managing a therapeutic feeding center there were expelled. It was not possible to verify the report independently.
Some 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid in Darfur, where the United Nations runs its largest aid operation in the world with the help of NGOs. Sudan’s U.N. envoy, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, has said Sudanese groups have been filling the gaps and there is no problem with aid distribution.
Holmes disagreed, saying: “If you read the report itself, it demonstrates that there are indeed gaps, and this is an agreed assessment. So I think the Sudanese government are agreeing that those gaps are there.”
The assessment summary did not directly criticize the government, though it indicated there were problems with aid delivery in Darfur that could worsen in the coming months.
Stripped of some of its key aid distributors, the WFP, which is the principal U.N. food aid provider in humanitarian crises, has been distributing aid itself with the help of local food committees, the summary said.
“By the beginning of May, as the hunger gap approaches, the World Food Program requires new and experienced partners to carry out food distributions for over 1 million people in need in Darfur,” it said.
The United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Sudan, Ameerah Haq, told reporters in Khartoum that panic might spread if food aid did not arrive in May and beyond. She added that U.N. agencies such as WFP would have to go back to donors to ask for more funding to cover the extra staff and infrastructure needed to fill the gap left by the expulsions.
There were no immediate water-related emergencies, the assessment said, though “major water shortages could develop within two to four weeks, as from March 18, if fuel, incentives and spare parts are not continuously provided.”
It added that the Sudanese government had committed itself to supporting the delivery of water and provision of health and nutritional care through the end of the year.
Holmes said that he hoped there would not be any “bureaucratic impediments” to the delivery of aid in Darfur as there have been in the past.
The assessment focused on Darfur. But the expulsions hit aid programs across North Sudan, and the U.N. has said there are also particular worries on the impact on Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile — three oil-rich and volatile regions along Sudan’s contested north-south border.
Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens in Khartoum