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UNICEF Warns Situation in Darfur Deteriorating

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) warns the situation in Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur province has deteriorated significantly in the past few months. UNICEF says insecurity, lack of access to needy people and lack of funding threaten to erode gains made by humanitarian agencies in Darfur.

UNICEF reports insecurity in Darfur is so bad that U.N. aid agencies are unable to gain regular access to about 700,000 internally displaced people. This is about one-third of the nearly two million people who have fled their homes since fighting erupted in 2003. They are living in U.N.-managed camps.

UNICEF's representative in Sudan, Ted Chaiban, says the situation is worsening. He notes in the past three months, 200,000 people have become newly displaced.

"A displacement of this magnitude is in and of itself a major humanitarian development, let alone adding that to 1.9 million displaced already and 3.6 million conflict affected in Darfur as well," he said. "So, it is a significant development and this is really a trend that started in October of 2005, a time when we had relative access and relative calm in Darfur. So, it has been going on for six months now."

Chaiban says fighting between the Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militia and rebel groups has intensified. He says fighting among the different rebel groups also has increased as they jockey for power. He says the peace negotiations in Abouja, Nigeria, are prompting all the warring parties to try to consolidate their positions before a deal is sealed.

The UNICEF official is making the rounds of European capitals in an effort to drum up support for Darfur. He says people have lost interest in the crisis and governments are not responding to requests for money.

He says UNICEF's $89 million appeal has only received $15 million. He warns UNICEF only has enough money to sustain life-saving operations until early June. Then the agency will be forced to cut programs to the detriment of women and children.

"It is extremely worrying," he added. "We are starting to see this creeping up of malnutrition figures. We are having to cut back on services and cut back on services for a population that is entirely dependent on us, because it is displaced for its own protection. Over time, that does result in higher morbidity rates, higher mortality rates and higher malnutrition rates. There is no doubt. And, that is why we are raising the alarm now. I do not want to be sitting here nine months from now saying 'it happened.' I would rather be sitting here nine months from now saying we reacted and it did not happen."

A UNICEF report shows global acute malnutrition rates in Darfur in 2004 stood at nearly 22 percent. It says a huge humanitarian effort cut those rates by more than half in 2005.

Chaiban says the humanitarian crisis that was controlled last year will certainly return and erode the progress made unless the international community responds to the urgent needs.