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Simon Martelli: Expelling aid agencies mounting troubles
June 14, 2012
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Sudan has caused frustration among donor countries by ordering seven foreign aid agencies out of its impoverished eastern region, in what some fear is a sign of mounting hostility to outside assistance.

The government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), which conducted a rapid assessment of the operations of 14 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) in the east, took the decision to expel seven of them late last month, arguing that some projects were badly managed, of poor quality and too costly.

The Sudan INGO Forum that represents them responded by saying that the organisations affected, which provide essential humanitarian aid such as healthcare for women and children, demining, water, sanitation and nutrition projects, served more than 600,000 people.

The region, which covers Kassala, Gedaref and Red Sea states, and where a fragile peace deal has held since 2006 after more than a decade of civil war, has “significantly worse” malnutrition levels than other parts of Sudan, one UN source said. It also has the country’s highest mortality rate for children under five.

“The consequence of the decision for the people of East Sudan, many of whom will be left without access to basic services, is therefore potentially grave,” the INGO Forum said.

It is by no means an isolated decision.

Just the week before, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had been forced to suspend lifesaving medical activities in a part of North Darfur due to restrictions imposed on its work there, leaving more than 100,000 people without vital healthcare.

MSF said the government “did not give us any clear reason” why medical shipments were prevented from reaching its project.

The NGOs ordered to suspend their operations in the east refused to comment, when contacted by AFP, some saying that to do so could jeopardise their activities elsewhere in Sudan.

But privately, humanitarian workers and Western diplomats express deep frustration, and worry that the government is acting with ever-more suspicion of, if not outright hostility towards foreign aid agencies in a country that can ill-afford to lose them.

“We are finding it more difficult to access the people who are most in need, wherever they may be located,” said another UN source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The latest decision appears to have been taken at a very high level in Khartoum, given the broad discrepancy between the HAC’s findings and independent accounts of the NGOs’ operations.

“It’s my belief that these organisations have done nothing wrong... The evidence is that on the local level they were really liked,” one diplomat said.

“We are all afraid that this is the beginning of the cancellation of (humanitarian) projects in other parts of the country, such as Darfur. It’s a negative trend,” the diplomat added.

Khartoum has a history of expelling foreign aid agencies from sensitive areas, most notoriously when it revoked the licences of 13 INGOs working in Darfur in 2009 shortly after the International Criminal Court charged President Omar Al Bashir with war crimes.

INGOs and UN agencies were also ordered out of South Kordofan and Blue Nile when conflicts erupted between government forces and ethnic rebels last year.

Agence France-Presse

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