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UN Aid Agencies Urge Sudanese Government Not to Expel NGOs

The United Nations is urging the government of Sudan to reverse its decision to expel 13 leading international aid organizations from Darfur and to terminate the work of three national agencies in that conflict-ridden province. U.N. agencies say the decision will have devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the United Nations cannot deliver the aid needed in Darfur without the assistance of the non-governmental organizations.

Sudan ordered the expulsion of 13 aid groups after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

OCHA Spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says the organizations that have been stripped of their working rights, employ nearly 40 percent of the aid workers in Darfur. She says the total number of humanitarian staff expelled from all of northern Sudan, including Darfur, is 7,610.

"Roughly 50 percent of the aid deliveries was in fact done by these organizations and will be affected," said Byrs. "That is why we have this huge gap to fill and that is why it is so difficult for both government and U.N. agencies to fill the gap left by the expulsion of those NGO's."

Byrs says three joint U.N.-government teams composed of experts from both sides will visit Darfur on Wednesday to conduct an assessment of critical short-term needs. She says they will look at four sectors; food, nutrition, water, and emergency shelter.

The World Food Program says four international NGOs distribute 35 percent of its food aid to more than one million people in Darfur. They also have been providing food to 5,500 malnourished children and mothers in need of supplementary and therapeutic feeding.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella says these agencies have been distributing food in 130 locations in Darfur. She says the World Food Program is unable, by itself, to fill this huge gap.

"So, unless NGOs can operate normally, people will go hungry, thirsty and growing numbers of sick and malnourished will go untreated," she said. "We are joining with our other sister agencies and partners urging the government of Sudan to rescind its decision in view of the potential grave impact on millions of vulnerable people in Darfur and elsewhere in northern Sudan."

In view of the serious situation, Casella says the World Food Program is planning a one-time distribution of enough food for two months. She says local committees that are established within the camps will do the distribution. But, she adds monitoring may be difficult and gaps in distribution may occur.

The United Nations warns the expulsion of the aid groups will affect health services for 1.5 million people. It says mortality and morbidity will probably increase because surveillance systems for communicable diseases will no longer be operating.

It says more than one million people may stop receiving safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, which will likely increase acute watery diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.