Funding shortfall threatens UN aid in Sudans strifetorn Darfur region

25 September 2007A shortfall of over $7 million is imperilling United Nations efforts to aid some of the more than 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and thousands of Chadian refugees in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region. “We fear we may be compelled to scale down our existing operations in West Darfur if we do not receive additional funding very soon,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today. The UNHCR operation in Darfur is facing a shortfall of $7.1 million out of a required 2007 budget $19.7 million. “We are seriously concerned that the lack of funding will soon have a direct impact on our operation,” Ms. Pagonis said, noting that the number of Chadian refugees continues to rise. “We are already facing difficulties in paying staff salaries for next month,” she added. UNHCR has been present in Darfur since June 2004 both in West Darfur and South Darfur, focusing mainly on protection and humanitarian aid for IDPs, including the promotion of access to legal redress, providing relief items to vulnerable people, strengthening basic services, including wells, schools and health centres, and efforts to avoid further displacement through small-scale rehabilitation projects. “Our regular monitoring in areas of displacement also contributes to establishing a safer environment. All of these activities could be curtailed if our funding situation does not improve,” Ms. Pagonis said. “Meanwhile, we remain extremely concerned that there is still no major improvement in the security situation,” she added, citing new displacement due to renewed in the region where more than 200,000 people have been killed and over 2 million others forced to flee their homes in four years of fighting between Sudanese Government forces, allied Janjaweed militias and rebel groups. Most of the camps in the El Geneina and Zalingei areas of West Darfur have reached maximum capacity. With continuing arrivals, there will soon be a need to create new sites. An estimated 250,000 people have been newly displaced this year due to the ongoing violence. UNHCR is also responsible for 30,000 Chadian and Central African refugees in West Darfur. The number of refugees has steadily increased during the year, a trend that is likely to continue if the security situation fails to improve in those two countries. Because of the volatile security situation, many aid workers must travel by helicopter to reach IDPs as roads are too unsafe. When travelling by road, staff must be escorted by African Union forces. So far this year, 77 aid workers have been abducted and nearly 70 humanitarian vehicles hijacked. “Despite all these constraints, assistance to the displaced remains fundamental for UNHCR and humanitarian agencies,” Ms. Pagonis said. “We appeal to donors to quickly provide contributions so we can continue our work.”

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