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SUDAN: Darfur crisis to linger until political solution - aid official

NAIROBI, 5 September 2007 (IRIN) - The humanitarian crisis in Darfur is likely to persist for the foreseeable future unless a political solution is found to address the root causes of the conflict, a senior aid official said.

"You have got millions of people displaced and so many armed factions operating in Darfur," said Paul Barker, Sudan country director for CARE, who was asked to leave Khartoum by the Sudanese government on 27 August.

"I think it is going to take a long time to build the trust that is going to be necessary for a stable environment more appropriate for development work."

People affected by the conflict, he added, had grown "cynical" of the peace process, having seen several initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis flounder.

"There have been a number of attempts in the past couple of years to negotiate ceasefires and peace agreements and these have not worked very well so far. Much as they would like to see progress, they somewhat doubt that it is around the corner; they need concrete proof that things are changing," said Barker.

While the Darfur humanitarian crisis remained challenging, the response from the international community had been "generous".

Four out of Darfur's six million people have been affected by the crisis, with more than 2.2 million displaced by fighting in camps.

"The positive side is that there has been a very generous response by the international community to the crisis," Barker said. "It is the largest humanitarian programme in the world, and as a result of several years of coordinated activity between the UN, NGOs and donors, humanitarian indicators have improved significantly.

"Malnutrition and childhood mortality are significantly lower than they were a few years ago. On the humanitarian level there has been success in spite of the incredible working environment. Unfortunately this year there are some access problems due to increased insecurity, so the levels of malnutrition are again increasing," he added.

On the decision by the Sudanese government to expel him, Barker said it was a result of a misunderstanding and expressed hope that the issue would be resolved soon to enable him to return to work.

"It is pretty upsetting not just to me and to CARE, but to all organisations working in the humanitarian [arena] in Darfur. CARE went out of its way to be transparent and open with the Sudanese government about our activities and our advocacy messages and what we are doing," he explained.

"I have been on the joint tripartite technical committee with the government and OCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], trying to improve the implementation of bureaucratic systems in Sudan. If the government would do this to someone who is trying to engage with them, [it] makes you wonder how secure others could be in trying to engage with the government."

Working conditions

Describing his experiences managing CARE humanitarian operation in Darfur, he said: "It is complicated because of the size and logistics, security and restrictions that come from the government in several areas - recruitment of staff, movement, travel permits, and close monitoring of what we do. I appreciate the concerns of the government for security and for honesty and transparent reporting, but it does make life pretty cumbersome for the agencies working there.

"I spent eight-and-a-half years working in Afghanistan both under the Taliban and in the post-Taliban times and that was quite challenging as well. I spent six years working in Ethiopia and that was a fairly complex mission. The Darfur programme is right up there in terms of complicated places to work," Barker added.

Insecurity in Darfur was one of the main challenges for aid workers in Darfur. "Last year, 14 aid workers were killed and 118 vehicles stolen. So far this year we have had fewer people killed, but we had a very high number of vehicles stolen and a number of convoys have been looted. Attacks on aid workers and the civilian population are a big and increasing problem in Darfur. Almost every party to the conflict in Darfur has for some reason been involved in attacking the assets and people involved in humanitarian work.

Building peace

"I am hopeful that the visit of [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon to Sudan will be constructive. I know he is hoping to become a catalyst for the stalled peace process. I hope he is able to pave the way for the smooth introduction and operation of the hybrid [UN-African Union peacekeeping] force. I hope he is able to nudge forward a political settlement which will make it possible for it to succeed. I am quietly watching and hoping for good news as a result of his visit."

Despite the challenges, Barker enjoyed working in Sudan. "The Sudanese people are famous for being generous and hospitable and that is pleasant. It is in the interests of the government of Sudan and the people we are trying to help to work towards a more positive relationship with the humanitarian community," he said.

He spoke of the need to improve inter-community relationships in the few areas of Darfur where people have felt safe enough to return to their villages.

"We have some interesting projects in a couple of areas in Darfur, in Kas in South Darfur and Mukjar in the southern part of West Darfur, which are working with small groups of returnees who have gone back to villages they had abandoned earlier. We are working with them to engage their neighbours in a peace-building, reconciliation process.

"It is very small-scale and somehow tentative, but it is something that needs to be expanded. That will ultimately be connected to some disarmament programme. There are far too many guns in Darfur and people will not feel fully safe to return to their former villages until they see fewer guns in circulation," said Barker.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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