Despite the deteriorating security situation in Darfur, a new United Nations assessment has found that overall malnutrition levels have mostly stabilised in 2006 and food insecurity has improved slightly thanks to a stronger international response to the suffering in Sudan’s war-torn west.
Crude mortality dropped for the third year running, but insecurity and lack of access to many Darfurians continued to cloud the aid picture.
The assessment also found that while the malnutrition rate among children under five rose slightly, from 11.9 percent last year to 13.1 percent this year, hovering just beneath the emergency threshold of 15 percent, it remained significantly below the 2004 malnutrition rates in Darfur which stood at 21.8 percent.
UN humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations have been able to deliver life-saving services including food aid, clean water, health services and agricultural assistance.
However, the condition of those in greatest need remains very precarious.
Preliminary results of the joint assessment by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF and WFP found that 70 percent of war-affected Darfurians were food insecure, slightly down from 74 percent last year.
Aid flow threatened
While the remaining 30 percent of this year’s war-affected people required some form of assistance, they had more diverse diets, spent less than 50 percent of their income on food and relied less on food aid.
But the UN agencies cautioned that the continued flow of aid is under threat because of escalating violence, which is restricting access to war and drought-affected people, exacerbating the already fragile situation.
Approximately 60 percent of highly food insecure households mentioned insecurity as the main barrier to cultivating their land, raising livestock and taking part in other income-generating activities.
Reaching feeding centres difficult
The assessment also showed that the percentage of people with adequate access to food among those living in displacement camps had actually dropped from 36 percent in 2005 to just 14 percent in 2006.
Furthermore, the number of families who said they could reach feeding centres for malnourished children had halved as the result of deteriorating security and because some feeding centres closed after malnutrition figures improved last year.
The assessment, which sampled households from the 3.7 million receiving aid, out of the total six million people in Darfur, pointed out some progress.
More water access
But due to insecurity and bad weather, the assessment teams were unable to reach some critical areas where aid has not been received for several months.
Access to clean water rose from 63 percent to 72 percent, vital to reducing disease and mortality caused by contaminated drinking water.
Also, the food security of the resident community has improved slightly across Darfur, and the assessment found a direct connection between food security and people’s ability to cultivate and generate income.
Food security variable
In north Darfur, where the majority of those covered by the assessment were residents, food security has improved despite humanitarian access problems in recent months.
But in South and West Darfur, food security declined because of comparatively higher numbers of displaced people living in camps, where the majority cannot cultivate.
Across Darfur, 51 percent of families cultivated their land this year, the same number as last year.
State by state, households cultivated 59 percent in North Darfur, 48 percent in South Darfur and 46 percent in West Darfur.
Beside insecurity, Darfurians said water shortages, lack of tools, pests, weeds, crop disease and shortage of seeds prevented them from cultivating more.
The sale of agriculture production was the main source of income for just 20 percent of people in Darfur, while wage labour mostly in agriculture was the main income source for 37 percent.
The assessment was conducted in September and sampled 2,200 households across 89 locations in the three states of Darfur.
It found that 22 percent of households were female-headed and that 53 percent of household heads were illiterate.