Four international aid agencies working in Darfur today said that July was the worst month of the three-year-old conflict in terms of attacks on aid workers and operations. Eight humanitarian workers were killed in Darfur during July.
The agencies—CARE, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam International, and World Vision—joined together to express alarm at the rising violence and deteriorating humanitarian access since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement on May 5. They warned the increasing insecurity is crippling their ability to reach people in need, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Besides the eight deaths, July saw many other aid workers attacked and intimidated, and there were more than 20 incidents of humanitarian vehicles being hijacked or stolen.
“The targeting of humanitarian workers is completely unacceptable,” said Paul Smith-Lomas, the regional director for Oxfam, one of several organizations to have a staff member killed in recent weeks. “Since the signing of the agreement, Darfur has become increasingly tense and violent, which has led to the tragic deaths of far too many civilians and aid workers. A full and comprehensive ceasefire must be implemented immediately.”
Tensions within many of the camps for the region’s two million displaced people have risen steadily due to opposition to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). Violence is increasingly quick to break out, putting at risk aid workers who are delivering vital services. Meanwhile, the under-resourced and poorly supported African Union police and troops who are supposed to be providing security appear to have reduced the scope of their efforts to protect civilians since the DPA’s signing.
The four aid agencies called upon those responsible for protecting civilians and creating a secure environment for humanitarian workers, particularly the African Union, to prioritize having a presence around the clock and regular patrols in areas around the camps.
The humanitarian response in Darfur is the largest in the world and has managed to stabilize the horrific health and nutritional conditions that were seen in the early stages of the conflict. However, the agencies warned this response is now under threat. Some areas of Darfur are seeing levels of malnutrition once again on the rise and outbreaks of acute diarrhea in the vast camps.
“The danger is clear. If we cannot access the people who need assistance then the humanitarian situation is going to rapidly deteriorate,” said Kurt Tjossem, a spokesperson for the International Rescue Committee. “ As usual in Darfur, civilians are the ones to suffer, from being attacked, displaced, and also from being denied access to the assistance that they urgently need.”
In the last month, more than 25,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur in the face of fighting and attacks on their villages. Three and a half million people throughout Darfur are dependent on humanitarian aid, yet vast areas such as the Jebel Marra mountains and virtually the entire northwestern region are almost completely inaccessible to aid agencies due to the violence and insecurity. Recent fighting has forced many agencies operating in and around Kutum in North Darfur to temporarily suspend their programs.
The agencies called on all parties engaged in the conflict—those who have signed the DPA and those who have not—to immediately adhere to the ceasefire and allow humanitarian operations unhindered access to the people in need. They urged the international community to do more to pressure all sides to end the ongoing violence.