Geneina — Humanitarian workers in Darfur have welcomed the planned deployment of a joint UN and African Union (AU) mission in the region, but warned it would have to meet very high expectations.
"We are all optimistic," Andrew Barash of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said during a meeting between Rodolphe Adada, the new head of the mission, NGOs and civil society organisations in Geneina, capital of West Darfur State, on 16 August. "We need to have some sort of break to give us the confidence that the humanitarian space won't continue to shrink."
However, he added: "There are very high expectations. If these are not met, at least at the level that the people would assume to be the ground level, there are going to be a lot of people who are quickly disenchanted."
The UN Security Council passed a resolution at the end of July that gave the green light for the deployment of up to 26,000 troops and police in Darfur in a new operation called the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
The troops will be able to use force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers who have faced increasing attacks from armed elements in the region. These attacks have forced aid workers to pull out from certain areas and curtail their a
Last month, Mike McDonagh, north Sudan manager for OCHA, said acts of banditry and attacks on humanitarian officials had put half a million hungry people out of reach of aid workers. Carjackings had made Darfur's roads hostile to the humanitarian community, forcing aid workers, in some cases, to use aircraft to deliver aid to places only a few kilometres away.
"With the arrival of a robust force to police the region, we can hopefully move more freely than we are right now and continue to provide the assistance that the people deserve," Barash told the meeting. "We are really looking forward to having increased force protection here on the ground."
Sudanese NGOs echoed similar sentiments, calling on Adada to ensure that UNAMID creates a safer environment for humanitarian officials to do their work.
"Humanitarian workers operating in natural or man-made disasters are exposed to various forms of dangers and sometimes death," said Al-Fateh Negm al-Bishom of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society in West Darfur. "We urge the AU and hybrid mission to protect [aid workers] as they deliver relief assistance to the needy."
UNAMID will take over from the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) by the end of the year, but the mission is not expected to be fully operational until next year.
Humanitarians asked Adada if UNAMID, also referred to as the hybrid mission, would succeed where AMIS did not. "The hybrid operation was established because the challenge of the situation in Darfur got beyond the capabilities of AMIS," Adada responded.
The hybrid mission was established because the situation in Darfur got beyond the capabilities of AMIS
Nearly 13,000 aid workers operate in Darfur, delivering relief to 4.2 million people. But 12 of them died in attacks across Darfur in 2006 and five since the beginning of this year, according to a recent UN report.
The Darfur conflict flared up when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing the central government of marginalising their region. Khartoum responded by arming Arab Janjawid militias, who have been blamed for much of the pillaging, rape and killing in Darfur.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]