After armed gangs threatened to kill its staff and stole truckloads of its emergency food supplies, Germany's Welthungerhilfe aid group announced that it would be suspending most of its work in Sudan's Darfur region.
Many aid organizations are now reassessing their missions in southern Sudan
Increasing attacks by rebels and criminals have led to a number of international organizations pulling out or halting their operations in Darfur, the site of the world's largest humanitarian operation.
"The risk to our staff is simply too high," said Johan van der Kamp, regional director of Bonn-based Welthungerhilfe, also known as German Agro Action. "Five weeks ago, relief organizations were not a target of attacks in this area. Now things have changed," he said in a statement.
Escalating attacks halt aid efforts
Welthungerhilfe had previously stopped delivering emergency food to an estimated 450,000 people in remote northern parts of Darfur because it had become too dangerous to send out trucks, van der Kamp said, adding that the organization had since shifted its focus to smaller communities living in the area's few towns and displacement camps.
Welthungerhilfe had already cut back its activities
However, the numbers of staff members being held up by armed gangs has increased in the last five weeks and seven trucks loaded with food for people living in rebel areas had been stolen, prompting Welthungerhilfe to take action, van der Kamp added.
In March, the UN World Food Program warned that attacks on convoys had led to a 50 percent reduction of emergency food supplies reaching the needy.
The latest figures issued by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 10 aid workers were killed in Darfur between January and July of this year, compared with 11 for the whole of 2007. A total of 74 aid compounds were attacked in the same period, it added.
Aid organizations shutting down or moving out
The head of OCHA's Darfur unit, Antoine Gerard, said in a statement one aid group had withdrawn from Darfur altogether in 2008, while many others had evacuated staff and temporarily shut down operations during crises.
"There are more than 80 humanitarian organizations here and you have to admire them for their determination to stay in the face of everything from bureaucratic obstacles to attacks," he said.
International experts say 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million driven from their homes in Darfur during more than five years of fighting.
The government in the capital of Khartoum accuses the West of exaggerating the unrest and descent into chaos and says no more than 10,000 have been killed.