The top U.N. humanitarian official says the operating environment for relief groups in Sudan's Darfur region is as strained as it was two years ago when the international community first began large-scale aid deliveries for hundreds of thousands of war victims. Jan Egeland is preparing for another trip to Darfur later this week.
This will be Mr. Egeland's fifth trip to Darfur since taking over as U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in 2003.
In an interview with VOA, Mr. Egeland described Darfur's humanitarian conditions:
"It is a dramatic situation that we see unfolding yet again in Darfur," he said. "We have no security, neither for the civilian population whom we want to protect and assist, nor for our own people on the ground. We have lost too many colleagues lives. We have lost too many vehicles. We have had too many trucks looted. It is really unsustainable for us, maintaining this lifeline for three million people."
Darfur's latest surge of violence and chaos has erupted, despite the signing of a peace deal between the Sudanese government and one rebel group earlier this year. Egeland points out that only one of several rebel groups signed the deal, which led to new fighting in the region. Add to that mix, new offensives by the Sudanese government and their proxy Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed.
Egeland is quick to say that all sides; rebel groups, government forces and the Janjaweed, are to blame for the worsening humanitarian situation:
"It is not good guys and bad guys, black and white. It is shades of gray and black that we are facing here. The government has imposed many restrictions, including now, of late, on American NGO's [non-governmental organizations] and American aid workers even," said Egeland. "A French NGO was just banned from a large part of the country. And I could go on and on. But I would assume that we have lost more vehicles in carjackings to the rebels than to any other group. "
As Egeland puts it, every armed group in Darfur is now specializing in the abuse of civilians and making relief workers' jobs nearly impossible to carry out.
With the situation so chaotic, Egeland says a new political effort is needed to work on modifying the Darfur Peace Agreement to make it acceptable to all combatants.
The other key to stabilizing Darfur, he says, is the deployment U.N. peacekeepers, something Khartoum has repeatedly refused to allow.
"I think long-term the only solution is an integrated peacekeeping force that has enough resources, enough soldiers, enough police, enough civilian employees to do the same thing that we have done successfully in large parts of the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo which was equally bad or worse only a few years ago," added Egeland.
Egeland says in the short term the international community must bolster the beleaguered African Union force of about 7,000 troops and observers in Darfur with continued aid packages.