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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
The Sudanese Reality: Still One of the World's Greatest Humanitarian Crises
Round Table on Sudan in The Centre
Brussels, 30 June 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year the European Commission will provide at least €120 million of humanitarian assistance to Sudan. This makes support for Sudan equal to our effort in Haiti – these are the Commission's two largest humanitarian programmes for 2010. At a time when there are other pressing needs, like the threat of hunger in the Sahel, or the growing number of refugees in the Horn of Africa, Sudan’s “record” underlines the difficulty and complexity of the humanitarian situation – in Darfur, in South Sudan, and in the eastern part of the country.
This reality of substantial and increasing needs is at odds with the limited attention that the rest of the world is paying to the plight of vulnerable populations in Sudan. It is becoming a "forgotten crisis" – where suffering continues but remains effectively invisible to public and politicians alike. At the same time, with the referenda in the South early next year, there is a risk that our current complacency may be overwhelmed by events. We need to prepare - and we need to do it now.
It is exactly for these two reasons – to bring attention to Sudan's humanitarian crisis and to work with my staff on plans for the near future – that I recently visited the country. I wanted to see with my own eyes who and how we help. I wanted to try and understand why such a big chunk of Europe’s scarce humanitarian budget is tied up in a country with higher income per capita than many of its neighbours. I wanted to talk to the people directly affected by the crisis and to those who are trying to help. And I wanted to discuss with the authorities the many obstacles that have been placed in the way of delivering aid.
It was a tremendous learning experience – much helped by the humanitarian community in Sudan, by the leadership and the staff of the Commission and our humanitarian service, ECHO, by our partners but most of all by the Sudanese people. I had a chance to talk to many of them in Khartoum, Nyala and Juba.
My main message is this: the humanitarian crisis in Sudan is far from being resolved and the world's attention needs to stay very closely focussed on it, especially over the next critical months, if the risk of deterioration is to be avoided and if there is to be a chance of improvement. I am therefore delighted that the Centre has invited me to share my main impressions as well as my thoughts of what needs to be done.
As I travelled through Sudan, from the capital to Darfur and then to Southern Sudan, it was clear this is a country of many contrasts. Khartoum is a booming, well-off city, but the farther you go from the city – or actually from its centre, where the Blue and the White Nile meet and enormous wealth is concentrated - the poorer the surroundings become. Because of Sudan's size and diversity, the humanitarian crisis is also diverse, with the people having many different needs, grievances and aspirations.
Let me start with Darfur, where I visited Nyala and the Kalma camp. The camp is the size of a small city and hosts over 80,000 internally displaced persons. Most of the people there arrived in the earlier years of the conflict and settled down in what used to be a forest. The forest is long gone, used for fuel, construction and household materials, and this makes life in the camp much harsher. The camp is self-governed and relies almost entirely on a handful of humanitarian organisations for food, water, sanitation and medical care.
Kalma camp produces clear evidence of why we should keep our eyes on Sudan. First, safety concerns are increasing. Just the day before my arrival two people were killed in the camp. According to the UN, the month of May has been the bloodiest in Darfur since 2008, with nearly 600 people being killed, including peacekeepers. Second, over the last months the population of the camp has started growing again as a result of intensified fighting between rebels and government forces, as well as a flurry of ethnic conflicts. In the first months of 2010 around 120,000 people have been newly displaced throughout Darfur and the prospect of return for the existing refugees have worsened. Third, the camp’s main providers of social services – the humanitarian workers – are under continuous threat, and kidnappings are on the increase. Since March 2009, there have been 10 kidnappings. As we speak, three aid workers are still being held hostage.
I had a chance to meet with the displaced people and listen to their concerns regarding security, health services, water, sanitation, and food security. I have seen children suffering from malnutrition and heard about the need for job opportunities for the youth. But the primary concern that I heard again and again was the insecurity that is affecting their lives and livelihoods. It was truly an eye-opening and moving experience.
I would like to praise the dedication and courage of the humanitarian workers who bring relief to the most vulnerable populations. Providing this assistance is a difficult task because of the overwhelming needs and because of very severe logistical challenges. It is also an extremely dangerous task. The biggest challenge faced in Darfur is the pervasive violence that affects everyone: local communities, displaced populations, and even the peacekeepers. The killing of three Rwandan soldiers on 20 June brings the number of peacekeeping fatalities to 27 since the deployment of the mission in 2008. Aid workers are also a target.
Security is the primary responsibility of the state. I used my meetings to call upon the government to make all possible efforts to end violent acts against aid workers and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. I was assured by the authorities of their commitment to tackling insecurity. Close attention is needed to ensure that these words are followed up with specific actions.
In Darfur, the United Nations and African Union mission (UNAMID) also has an important role to play in providing security. UNAMID is in the process of completing its full deployment (at the time I was there, they were close to 85 percent of their target size of 20,000 peacekeepers plus 6,400 police and civilians). UNAMID can also contribute to recovery activities that are directly related to security issues (such as rehabilitation of security-relevant roads, airports etc). This contribution is welcomed – as long as it does not distract UNAMID from its core mandate which is the protection of civilians. The problem in Darfur is striking but simple: without security there is no chance for development, and without development security can not be sustained. The more UNAMID is able to achieve in securing the region, the better the development prospects of Darfur become.
One of the consequences of insecurity is the reduction in access to communities in remote and conflict affected areas. Access problems are faced by both aid workers and peace-keepers. This challenge has been further magnified by restrictions on travel and presence in areas in need.
This reduction in access is often referred to as "shrinking humanitarian space". Humanitarian space can be understood in many ways. It can be seen in a physical sense as a safe zone. In a wider sense it encompasses the physical, social and legal environment in which the implementation of principled humanitarian action is safe and feasible. Under both definitions the humanitarian space in Darfur is getting smaller.
The immediate consequence is that aid agencies cannot reach all those in need of assistance. This is currently the case in the mountainous Jebel Marra region where - despite repeated attempts and requests - humanitarian operators have not had meaningful access to the stranded population since February 2010. I used my meetings with the Sudanese authorities both in Khartoum and in Nyala to urge them to provide the UN and the Red Cross with access to communities in Jebel Marra. I learned that after my visit some restrictions on UN helicopter travel were lifted. However, while I was assured that the Red Cross would be allowed in this is not yet the case.My plan is to write again, and again, and also encourage the UN, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the resident Humanitarian Coordinator, to keep the issue high on the agenda whenever they interact with the Sudanese authorities.
To sum up, Darfur remains in a precarious situation and it will require persistent engagement with the authorities if we are to make progress on issues such as access, security and bringing kidnappers to justice. The mechanisms for high level dialogue need to be reactivated both in Khartoum and at Darfur State level. I made this point to the Sudanese authorities and was assured that this would be done.
Let me now move on to Southern Sudan.
Southern Sudan is at a historical turning point. Years of civil war have been followed by a fragile peace. The implementation of the final elements of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement will bring referenda on possible secession and will decide the future of the country. During my stay in Juba, the capital of the South, the referenda were foremost on every interlocutor's mind.
Responding to the humanitarian needs in Southern Sudan is a major challenge - but for reasons very different to those in Darfur. There has been virtually no development in this part of Sudan during the two decades of conflict. I learned from a WHO official, who was previously posted in Nyala, that South Sudan is well behind South Darfur in terms of development. He gave an appalling example – the total number of Sudanese doctors and nurses in the whole of South Sudan is smaller than the number in the city of Nyala. The result is that life expectancy in South Sudan is 41 years and the population has a very limited coping capacity.
Southern Sudan is currently facing food insecurity and outbreaks of epidemics. Significant population displacements are being triggered by localised conflicts and by the activities of armed groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army. Five years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the pace of development activities remains very slow and the lack of basic services has claimed many lives. If the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Southern Sudan is to be resolved, then the recovery and development agenda must finally be brought forward.
The humanitarian community must, at the same time, prepare itself for the upcoming referenda and be ready to respond to a potential increase in humanitarian needs. The key to an effective response will be the timely mobilisation of financial resources and the pre-positioning of relief items in the areas which are likely to be most affected. The European Commission stands committed to working with its partners in Sudan to make this happen.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I returned from Sudan with four main messages.
First, Sudan should never be allowed to become a forgotten humanitarian crisis. Humanitarian needs in Darfur and in Southern Sudan are massive. The humanitarian community has a responsibility to keep international attention focussed on Sudan. I myself will use every opportunity to raise these issues with key interlocutors: within the EU, with the Sudanese authorities, with the UN but also with the African Union, the Arab League, China and the US.
Second, security is a top priority for an effective humanitarian response and also for the development agenda. Given the situation on the ground, any political talk of "normalisation" is premature. The violence against aid workers in Darfur is an unacceptable violation of international humanitarian law and the perpetrators of such acts must be brought to justice. The Sudanese authorities need to respect their commitments to take security more seriously and end the de facto impunity that kidnappers enjoy.
Third, humanitarian assistance in Sudan must go hand in hand with development activities. A lack of development is one of the underlying causes of current humanitarian needs, especially in the South of Sudan. It is only through the transition away from emergency programmes and towards longer-term initiatives that the prospects for the most vulnerable will improve. I am engaged in discussions with my colleague Andris Piebalgs on how we can expand our activities in Sudan in the direction of linking relief to rehabilitation and development.
Fourth, an active dialogue with the authorities is indispensible if there is going to be progress on fundamental questions such as access and security. The UN is the main interlocutor for this dialogue, and has to be supported as much as possible. I intend to remain personally engaged in carrying out and supporting this dialogue.
Keeping international attention focussed on Sudan. Improving security. Promoting development. And keeping an active dialogue with the authorities. These four measures will not end the humanitarian problems. But they will certainly help improve the current situation.
Thank you for your attention and I look forward to your questions.