May 10, 2009 / 5:24 PM / 10 years ago

UN says not as ready as would like for Darfur rainy season

KHARTOUM, May 10 (Reuters) - The expulsion of international NGOs means aid agencies are not as ready as they could be for the rainy season in Darfur but a humanitarian crisis is not imminent, a senior U.N. official said on Sunday.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled 13 international aid agencies after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.

Some parts of Darfur, a region roughly the size of France in western Sudan, become very difficult to reach during the rainy season which starts in a few weeks. Rain floods unmade roads and tracks and rivers swell.

Many of the camps, where some 2 million people headed after the violence drove them from their homes, lie in flood plains.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a trip to Sudan including Darfur, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said:

"We are not as ready as we would like to be. Normally before the rainy season, the agencies, NGOs working there would be pre-positioning food and other goods...because it becomes very difficult to move them around once the rainy season started."

Because of the expulsions, those efforts were delayed because it took a while to regain access to warehouses where these goods are kept, Holmes said.

About 4.7 million people rely on humanitarian aid in Darfur, a conflict in which U.N. officials say as many as 300,000 people have died in almost six years of ethnic and political violence. Khartoum says 10,000 have died.

"We now have access, we’ll be working extremely hard to make up for lost time. But we’re not in as good a position as we would have been otherwise," Holmes said.

"The rainy season is always a period of increased risk, the risks are even greater than they would have been otherwise because of the expulsions. But I’m reasonably confident we’ll get through it without a major crisis."

Holmes said the most "critical life-saving gaps" in aid, particularly in food, water and emergency shelter, had been filled, albeit in an ad-hoc way.

"So that there is not as far as I can tell a threat of an imminent humanitarian crisis at the moment in Darfur." (Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Philippa Fletcher)



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