U.N. officials warn that the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region is getting worse. They told the Security Council Tuesday there must be an end to violence and real steps must be taken toward a political settlement or the situation could deteriorate even further. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Rodolphe Adada, the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur, told the council that the number of troops in the joint AU/U.N. peacekeeping force has not increased significantly since it took over from the approximately nine-thousand African Union troops in Sudan at the end of last year.

"The force is at less than 40 percent of its mandated level of 19,555, and it is very unlikely to achieve full-operating-capability before 2009," said Rodolphe Adada.

The force has been mandated to have 26,000 peacekeepers.

Adada said the joint force, known as UNAMID, still lacks essential equipment - particularly helicopters.

He added that, while security remains UNAMID's main concern, it continues to push for a comprehensive political solution to the conflict, but that a lack of will on both the part of the Sudanese government and the rebels to advance the peace process makes the prospects for such a settlement slim.

There are also formidable challenges on the humanitarian front.

John Holmes, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, painted a grim picture of the situation, saying it is as bad today if not worse than when he first briefed the council a year ago. He said sexual violence, growing malnutrition, human rights abuses and attacks on humanitarian convoys are all adding to an already serious situation.

Holmes said that as many as 100,000 more people may have died in Darfur over the last two years as a result of violence, disease and malnutrition.

"A study in 2006 suggested that 200,000 had lost their lives from the combined effects of the conflict," said John Holmes. "That figure must be much higher now, perhaps half as much again."

He explained later his figures were only an estimate and not an official U.N. figure.

"I'm not saying I am sure," he said. "I said it is a reasonable hypothesis, a reasonable extrapolation from the previous figures from studies done elsewhere."

But Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad dismissed the higher estimate, calling Holmes's statements "unhelpful" and saying Khartoum's figures do not exceed more than 10,000 dead from violence. He denied that there are any epidemics or problems of starvation in Darfur, saying the numbers of deaths from such causes would only be very minimal.