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EAST AFRICA: Holmes warns on humanitarian outlook

NAIROBI, 7 December 2007 (IRIN) - UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes has warned that the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia's Somali and Sudan's Darfur regions, as well as Somalia, could worsen and urged the international community to step up to aid and protect civilians.

Briefing the UN Security Council upon his return from the three countries, Holmes said: "I am extremely concerned by the humanitarian situation in all three areas I visited.

"They are a reflection of the huge linked political and security challenges which this region now faces, and which must be a major concern for this Council."

The Somali region, one of the poorest in Ethiopia, has long been badly affected by conflict between the government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

"Intensification of this conflict during 2007 has led to fears that already chronic food insecurity could give way to real famine conditions for a significant part of the 4.5 million population," he said.

He cited several concerns including military operations, which had severely limited commercial traffic across the Somali border; insecurity, which had directly affected delivery of food aid; a poor recent rainy season and evidence of worrying health and nutrition conditions.

"The [Ethiopian] government’s view is that claims of major humanitarian problems are much exaggerated; that there are now no restrictions on commercial trade; and that there should be no difficulty in getting food aid to the people," he added. "We had to agree to disagree about the analysis of the crisis, though we will try to reconcile our respective data.

"But the Prime Minister [Meles Zenawi] confirmed that the government would respond as if our worst-case scenario predictions were justified. He assured me that all necessary steps would be taken to avoid any famine."

Talking about Sudan, Holmes said the situation in Darfur was gradually deteriorating, and the operation remained fragile. "My concerns include restrictions on access, violence affecting civilians and aid workers, and respect of humanitarian principles by all parties to the conflict," he told the Council.

between signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement, aerial bombardments, militia and inter-ethnic clashes, banditry and general lawlessness had continued to have a major impact on the population of Darfur.

"This year, nearly 280,000 more civilians have been forced to flee violence, many for the second or third time, to already overflowing camps or to seek refuge in the bush," he explained. "The consequences are significant – for example, increases in malnutrition in several areas of Darfur.

"There are other grim consequences too. In Adilla, an area in eastern South Darfur not far from Haskanita in North Darfur, where fighting started in August, one medical clinic reported 183 cases of sexually transmitted infections in September, including 40 cases in children under five years old."

Since the start of the year, he added, 128 humanitarian vehicles had been hijacked, 118 staff temporarily taken hostage, more than 59 personnel physically or sexually assaulted and 12 relief workers killed.

"The reality is that the need for humanitarian assistance in Darfur continues to grow," Holmes said. "The 2008 Work Plan will appeal for US$825 million for humanitarian needs and some early recovery activities in Darfur."

On Somalia, Holmes told the Council: “The UN estimates that more than half of the [capital] city [Mogadishu] has been emptied of its citizens. Some 230,000 of them are now living along a 15km stretch of road between Mogadishu and the small town of Afgoye, probably the single largest IDP gathering in the world today.

"All the people I spoke to in the camps had fled the violence and intimidation that have made life in Mogadishu so unlivable," he added. "Some spoke of snipers fuelling panic in the streets. Many left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

"There are some 1.5 million people in need. I therefore appeal to the donor community, the agencies and the international NGOs to increase their presence and resources dedicated to Somalia. In 2007, we requested $300 million for the Somalia Consolidated Appeal. In 2008, that figure will rise to at least $400 million."

In all the three countries, Holmes hailed humanitarian workers who are trying to respond to the crises.



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.
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