PRESS CONFERENCE BY UN EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
11 July 2006
Citing immense difficulties in getting food supplies and other vital aid to war-weary people in Somalia, Darfur and Gaza, the top United Nations humanitarian official today appealed for more resources, and for commitment from parties on the ground in those respective hot spots to help push through aid to the innocent civilians trapped by conflict, as well as for urgent action to ensure access by, and the safety of, United Nations personnel and other relief workers.
“As humanitarians, we try to reach all communities in need everywhere, always, but we have, however, consistent access problems -- very often in violation of international law -- and systematic in some cases”, Emergency Coordinator Jan Egeland told correspondents at Headquarters. He highlighted the United Nations ongoing struggle to alleviate the desperate humanitarian situations in and around Somalia’s long-troubled capital, Mogadishu, throughout the Sudan’s violence-wracked western Darfur region, and in Gaza, where recent tit-for-tat violence between Israeli and Hamas-led forces had left 1.4 million Palestinians on the brink of humanitarian disaster.
He said that the humanitarian community’s long-running concern about the situation in Somalia had been heightened in recent weeks as the conflict between interim Government forces, secular warlords and Islamic fighters worsened. Earlier this month, militias associated with the Union of Islamic Courts drove warlords out of Mogadishu and took control of parts of Somalia, which has been without a functioning Government for the past 15 years.
Although Somalia had been one of the “rare remote-control operations” where sporadic relief aid had been able to get in through Somali intermediaries, fresh fighting had made the already tenuous situation worse. But, he noted that a United Nations humanitarian and security mission had met two days ago with Islamic Court leaders and agreed on opening a dialogue that would allow humanitarian access to Mogadishu -- “the only capital on earth with no presence from international organizations” -- where some 250,000 internally displaced persons were at the mercy of armed groups.
“The Islamic Courts asked humanitarian organizations to step up their operations and said that they would not restrict our freedom of movement and our access to the civilian population”, he said, stressing that such access was critical because Somalia currently had the world’s highest rate of child mortality and lowest rate of school enrolment. If the international community had any hopes of re-establishing a functioning, democratic Somalia that did not harbour terrorists, “We must have a massive international political, diplomatic, security, development and humanitarian investment”, declared Mr. Egeland.
To that end, he said United Nations and other humanitarian agencies were ramping up, presently reaching about 1.4 million of the 2.1 million people in need, and establishing bases of operations in the south of the country. He also hoped to re-establish operations in Mogadishu sometime soon. On the recent killing of award-winning Swedish journalist Martin Adler, he said the Islamic Court had been open to the mission’s request to urgently investigate the matter. The Court had promised to report its findings.
“In Darfur, security is non-existent for the civilian population and non-existent for humanitarian workers”, Mr. Egeland said of the vast Sudanese region where three years of fighting between Government forces, pro-Government militias and rebels has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million others. Since the signing of a controversial peace deal in early May by only one group, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), the main rebel factions had since splintered and turned on each other, as well as the civilian population they had once vowed to protect. SLA infighting and the indiscriminate killings, rape, looting and burning of villages had displaced some 8,000 civilians over the past 10 days alone.
“It is heartbreaking to see that what the SLA groups had rightfully accused the Janjaweed of doing, they are now doing themselves to the civilian population caught in the crossfire”, he said, adding that reportedly, Government forces were supporting the attacks against the splinter groups. He also said that humanitarian workers throughout Darfur were being attacked “on an almost daily basis”, including a CARE staffer who had been shot and killed in the massive Kalma refugee camp.
Further, a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy had been ambushed and looted a few days ago in South Darfur, and the abduction of a national staff member and mounting security concerns had forced Oxfam to suspend operations in two of its six offices in North Darfur earlier this week. “I have also again received reports that the Government is using white helicopters, the same colour that AMIS [African Union Mission in Sudan] and the United Nations is using. This is a violation of international principles and poses a direct threat to UN and non-governmental organization staff who normally [use] white helicopters and are neutral and impartial and should not be attacked”, he said.
“We need a UN force on the ground, as it is now ... our AMIS colleagues are not able to effectively protect the civilian population, nor humanitarian operations. It is completely not sustainable the way it is now”, he declared, stressing that the countries that had thus far pledged to support a United Nations force were the Organization’s traditional troop contributors, such as generous countries from the South, not Western countries.
So, it was false to say that any United Nations peacekeeping force in the Sudan would be a “western force and, therefore, should be resisted,” he said, reiterating that it would be a force of largely non-Western nations that would be on hand to protect civilians in Darfur. In Darfur, as in Somalia, the United Nations had thus far received less than half of the funds needed to adequately address the humanitarian situation. “If we are to do effective work where we get humanitarian access and when we get full access, we need a fully funded operation”, he said.
In the wake of the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier from Israel, the rocket attacks against Israel, and the subsequent massive Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, the situation for the civilian population there has deteriorated further, he said, turning the humanitarian spotlight on the Middle East. With massively high levels of poverty and unemployment, Gaza was an overpopulated area that was totally dependent on international assistance. The area’s 1.4 million people could not survive without it. He said that Israel’s “excessive use of force” has disproportionately hurt the civilian population. Israel’s “surgical” bombing of Gaza’s only power plant had been a disastrous act.
“With the electricity now gone, we have the downwards spiral that we predicted”, he said, adding that, although Israel had allowed some fuel to go through -– enough to power backup generators for a few hours at a time and to avoid the total breakdown of clean water and sewage systems -– it was not enough to power hospitals and sanitation infrastructure permanently.
“It is strange what is happening, because it seems like the political and military leaders specialize in doing things that are not in their interests”, he said. If the Palestinian groups would like to see welfare and security and development for the Palestinians, then they would not continue with terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. If Israel wanted to have the security that she merited and she deserved, she should not seal off 1.4 million people and keep them away from humanitarian access. Some 230 containers of food were waiting to cross into Gaza and were accruing huge surcharges on a daily basis. “ Israel will not benefit from further enraging the civilian population in Gaza, half of which are children”, he said.
At this point, he said, the Palestinian side should immediately release the soldier, and stop attacks against Israeli civilians. At the same time, Israel must back down from its military operation in Gaza, which was further dismantling already-fragile Palestinian infrastructure by the day. If things continued as they were, the hundreds of humanitarian workers heroically carrying out their duties would not be able to continue to provide relief for Palestinian children, or help Palestinian institutions provide water and sanitation.
A total breakdown or humanitarian disaster in Gaza would benefit only one group –- extremists. “There are enough extremists in the Middle East, let’s not create more”, he said appealing for free passage of humanitarian goods and fuel into Gaza, as well as free flow of patients leaving the area for medical treatment. He said that the revised United Nations Consolidated Appeal for the Palestinian Occupied Territories was around $385 million had thus far received only about $117 million. “So we need money, we need access, security ... and parties who protect ... civilian populations.”
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For information media • not an official record
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