The immunization of children largely cut off from international aid since February 2010 in the mountainous Jebel Marra region of Darfur is set to expand following an agreement with the Sudanese government over access.
“UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund] has had access to [locations in] East Jebel Marra and agreement has been reached [with regard] to West Jebel Marra to support child survival interventions including the immunization acceleration campaign,” Magdy Bayoumi, UNICEF’s head of health and nutrition in Sudan, told IRIN.
Clashes between government forces and rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) have prevented humanitarian agencies reaching Jebel Marra - home to an estimated 170,000 people - except for a few missions in May and September.
On 14 October, UN Resident Coordinator in Sudan Georg Charpentier drew renewed public attention to the region, issuing a statement expressing concern over “limitations on humanitarian access in view of intensified fighting in parts of Eastern Jebel Marra in Darfur.”
Charpentier “welcomes recent access by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to some parts of Eastern Jebel Marra, and calls upon parties to the conflict to facilitate humanitarian access on a regular basis,” the statement said, adding that the government had given assurances that “access will be enlarged and sustained to allow for coverage of the national immunization campaign that started today [14 October].”
On 7 October, Sudanese Army Spokesperson Al-Sawarmi Khaled announced that the East Jebel Marra villages of Katour, Darban, Jawa and Souni had been retaken from the SLA.
During the months of no access, humanitarian agencies had to operate via remote control or cease their activities in the region altogether.
“Lack of information and access hampers us from assessing and meeting humanitarian needs”, one aid worker told IRIN in late September, asking not to be identified.
“We still cannot say how many people are dead, or displaced, and what they need,” he added.
On two occasions in mid-September, UNICEF, WHO and health officials from the state of South Darfur conducted missions to assess the health and nutritional status of children, and to deliver paediatric drugs, vaccines, therapeutic food and other essential supplies via Médicins du Monde to the East Jebel Marra locations of Feina, Gorlambange, Almalam and Leiba.
“It was a big success to deliver supplies to the area which was not accessible for more than nine months. Vaccination started once supplies were received,” said Bayoumi.
“There are ongoing communications aimed at having continuous access to East Jebel Marra in coordination with all stakeholders at state and federal level,” he added.
At least 100,000 people have been displaced by the clashes in Jebel Marra this year, according to the UN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions