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UN Says Humanitarian Situation Worsening in Darfur

The U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Margareta Wahlstrom, says the humanitarian situation in Sudan's western Darfur region is worsening. From VOA's United Nation's bureau, Suzanne Presto reports.

Wahlstrom says 4 million people in the Darfur region rely on humanitarian assistance. She says the region has been the scene of the world's largest humanitarian operation for the past three years, and she says the problems have grown even more critical in the past few months.

The U.N. emergency relief coordinator says violence and insecurity displaced another 55,000 people between June and late August, bringing the total to 250,000 this year, and 2.2 million people in total.

Wahlstrom says aid workers are concerned that malnutrition is on the rise in Darfur. She says several surveys indicate that, in certain areas, about one-in-five people (17 percent) are malnourished.

Wahlstrom says there is a lean season every year in Darfur, but she says aid workers have never seen this pattern of decline.

"With a huge effort of the international and humanitarian community, from 2004 the situation stabilized from a health and nutritional perspective," she said. "So this is the first time we see the potential of a deterioration for which we are very worried, and we put this in the context of the very unstable situation."

An estimated 200,000 people in Darfur have been killed during more than four years of fighting between rebels, the government and militia groups.

In late July, the U.N. approved a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur. When fully deployed it will be the world's largest peacekeeping mission, comprised of more than 19,000 military personnel and about 6,400 police officers.

Wahlstrom says humanitarian workers have high hopes for this force.

"The expectation that the result of the deployment of the mission on the situation of people will yield almost immediate impact will be very high," she added.

On the subject of broader relief efforts, Wahlstrom says Sudanese authorities have been more cooperative in recent months, particularly in terms of administrative tasks, such as issuing visas to relief workers. But she notes that humanitarian groups are concerned that authorities ordered the top official in Sudan for the international aid agency CARE to leave the country.