from World Vision
Long-term funds urgently needed as conflict and coming rains leave many areas accessible only by air
Darfur, Sudan, March 28, 2008—Fourteen international aid agencies have warned that vital assistance to millions of people across Sudan will soon be put in jeopardy unless there is renewed commitment to provide long-term funding for humanitarian flights in the country.
With violent conflict continuing in Darfur and heavy annual rains due to fall in southern Sudan, which will leave vast areas submerged and impassable, aid agencies now rely more than ever on the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) to help them deliver assistance to many of the most inaccessible, insecure and poverty-stricken areas of Sudan.
In Darfur alone, the 14 agencies together assist over 2 million people in areas currently only reachable by air, as roads are too insecure—yet the air service is struggling for long-term funds. Hundreds of thousands more people in other parts of Sudan trying to recover from years of war, including the south of the country and disputed areas such as Abyei, are also only accessible by air.
While the agencies expressed relief at today's announcement that new donor funding will enable UNHAS to continue flying for one more month, they warned the reprieve is only short-term. The World Food Program, which runs the UNHAS service, recently warned the flights could close within weeks due to a lack of funds. Donors have now pledged enough to maintain the service during April—but nothing further is yet confirmed and its future is still uncertain. The agencies called on the international community to follow up and provide further funding as soon as possible.
"Much of our work meeting the enormous humanitarian and development needs across Sudan would not be possible without these flights. While we are relieved that donors have provided this new short-term support, we are greatly concerned that such an essential service still only has funding secured for four more weeks. A service upon which millions of people depend should not have to fear for its future every month," the agencies said.
In Darfur, the ongoing conflict has left more than 4 million people in need of assistance yet aid agencies are finding it more difficult than ever to reach them, due to almost daily hijackings of vehicles delivering humanitarian aid and targeted attacks on aid workers. The UNHAS flights are the only safe way for aid workers to reach many areas—particularly those outside the major towns, in areas where the humanitarian needs are often greatest. When fighting in West Darfur last month forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes empty-handed, the UNHAS flights were the only way most aid agencies could reach the area.
Oxfam said more than half of the 400,000 people it assists across Darfur can only be accessed by air because the roads are too unsafe. CARE warned that delivery of food and other vital assistance to 300,000 people in South and West Darfur is reliant on air transport.
"There is no doubt that if these flights were forced to end or scale down, given the ongoing violence we could not continue to operate much of our work in Darfur," warned Oxfam.
Many other parts of Sudan are slowly trying to recover from decades of civil war that left 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced. A shortage of roads and infrastructure, sporadic outbreaks of new fighting and heavy seasonal rainfall all mean flying is often the only way to access areas.
"If the peace agreement is to hold then the enormous development needs must be met. Yet for months at a time, vast areas are flooded and completely impassable. Without the humanitarian air service to fly aid in, there is no way the needs of these areas could be met," agencies said.
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