Interview: “If each of us accepts this kind of suffering, it’s a shame on humanity”

16 October, 2013
July 2013, South Kordofan, Sudan: Children playing at a centre supported by the UN and its partners. The humanitarian community are planning to begin a polio vaccination campaign in South Kordofan in the coming weeks. Credit: OCHA/Matija Kovac
July 2013, South Kordofan, Sudan: Children playing at a centre supported by the UN and its partners. The humanitarian community are planning to begin a polio vaccination campaign in South Kordofan in the coming weeks. Credit: OCHA/Matija Kovac

In early October, Ali Al-Za’tari, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan visited New York to discuss some of the major humanitarian and development challenges facing the east African nation.

Sudan, he says, is at a critical juncture in its recent history. “We’re talking about the establishment of a changed thinking in terms of how Sudan wants to envisage itself in the next couple of years,” he said.

“Does it want to continue to be a recipient of humanitarian aid, or does it want to get out of this conflict issue?”

Q. Ali Al-Za’tari, thank you for joining us. Blue Nile and South Kordofan have been in the news quite a lot of late. What’s being done to support people in those conflict areas?

A. We're doing our best to reach the people that we can reach in both states. We're now focused completely on [Polio and Vitamin A deficiency] vaccination campaigns [in South Kordofan].The agreement is for the 5thof November to be the start date. We need the two sides to agree on the mode of transporting vaccines and agree on cessation of hostilities.

Q. Do you think there will be a cessation of hostilities?

A. We hope that there will be. I was informed by the government that they will be declaring unilaterally a cessation of hostilities from the 1st to the 14thof November. I hope that the SPLM-North (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North) will agree. If both agree - and the cessation of hostilities stands and holds - that will enable us to move the vaccines into these areas.

Q. Turning to the disputed region of Abyei: Thousands of people are starting to return to the area after almost two years. What kind of support is being offered to them?

A. All sorts of support is needed in Abyei: health, education water and sanitation, midwifery – even assistance to livestock herders. We have a complex situation in Abyei, not just because of the rains that have turned that area into mud, but because of the conflict between the two states [Sudan and South Sudan] over the referendum.

From a humanitarian point of view: We are there but curtailed. We do not have the access that we would like to have, especially from the North --  not because we are prevented by Khartoum, but because we are prevented by the precarious security and safety situation that does not enable us to deliver aid in that area.

But the needs are very pronounced. And while we have plans, we are often short in terms of the resources that we require.

Q. Looking at Darfur. It is 10 years since the crisis started, and the situation seems to be getting worse. What are the prospects for the people of Darfur?

A. I think Darfur is one of the most critical questions for Sudan and the entire world. We have fighting between tribes and intra-tribal fighting. We have rebel groups that are fighting the government forces. In between, innocent people are victimized and 300,000 people [displaced] in 2013 alone.

Now the government is interested in moving Darfur from a humanitarian stage to a development stage. We do acknowledge this wish; we are working with them.

But you still have more than 1.4 million people dependent on aid in Darfur. You have IDP camps – the largest hosting more than 200,000 people outside of Al Fasher (the capital of North Darfur). You have people in need in all aspects of life and nothing short of massive government support and donor support, together with the United Nations and national and international NGOs, will rid Darfur of its humanitarian needs.

But that would have to be based on a crucial foundation of security. A formula for peace has to be found. Otherwise we will continue to have this fighting that is shedding blood and killing and maiming people by the hundreds on a monthly basis.

Q. What do you think it would take to put Darfur back at the top of the international agenda?

A. The suffering of the people is just beyond belief. And if each one of us accepts this kind of suffering, it’s a shame on humanity. We should not accept it.

We should not accept that families – women, children and men –are covered with plastic sheeting on ground that is scorched by sun and that they have to share their food with dust and insects and have no access to clean water. We can’t accept that women have to walk long distances to bring water and be subject to attacks and abuse on the way back and forth.

If that isn’t enough then I don’t know what is enough for humanity to move.

OCHA Sudan>>