Donors meet to discuss rebuilding Sudan’s Darfur

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After a decade of conflict it is time for Sudan’s Darfur to begin rebuilding, U.N. experts said ahead of an international conference to woo support for a development strategy worth billions of dollars.

About 400 delegates including representatives of aid agencies and governments from around the world will gather at a five-star resort in Doha on Sunday and Monday to endorse the strategy.

Critics worry that continued unrest in the western Sudanese region could hinder the effort, and donors have expressed concern about Khartoum’s restrictions on access.

“I don’t have great hope from this conference because there is no security on the ground,” said a civil society activist.

“Things in Darfur cannot happen with dreams.”

The conference was agreed under a July 2011 peace deal which Khartoum signed in the Qatari capital Doha with an alliance of rebel splinter factions.

Major insurgent groups rejected the pact, which U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in January there had been only limited progress in implementing.

Delays can only make Darfur’s recovery more difficult, says a 155-page draft of the Darfur development strategy.

“There will likely never be a time when an ideal set of conditions for recovery is apparent in Darfur,” it says, seeking $7.2 billion for a six-year effort to move the region away from food handouts and other emergency aid.

Pontus Ohrstedt of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said the root causes of Darfur’s conflict cannot be addressed by aid alone.

“So we really need to... help the people rebuild their lives and capacities to be self-reliant to stand on their own feet,” said Ohrstedt, who helped develop the plan with Sudanese officials and other agencies.

The strategy aims to lay the foundation for lasting development through improving water facilities, the road network and other infrastructure.

It calls for agricultural upgrades, access to financing and other measures to help Darfuris support themselves under a more effective system of local government.

The Qatar-hosted meeting comes 10 years after a rebellion erupted among the region’s non-Arab ethnic groups. Insurgents sought to end what they said was the domination of Sudan’s power and wealth by the country’s Arab elites.

In response, government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is sought for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

While the worst of the violence has long passed, rebel-government clashes continue along with inter-Arab battles, kidnappings, carjacking’s and other crimes.

Witnesses and victims blame government paramilitaries for “harassment and intimidation inside camps” for Darfur’s 1.4 million displaced, a U.N. panel reported in February.

“The main concern is the security and access,” a foreign diplomat said, giving a cautious welcome to new government measures to ease obstacles for aid workers needing to visit their projects.

Despite continued unrest, “large parts” of Darfur are relatively stable and offer opportunities for recovery, Ohrstedt said, adding that the most important goal of the conference is to get political backing for the strategy.

He admits “this is a difficult climate to raise resources” but hopes donors will at least initially commit $177 million for critical short-term activities, like fixing damaged bridges.

“We will announce a new pledge in Doha,” said Tomas Ulicny, ambassador for the European Union delegation to Sudan. He did not specify the amount.

The United States, however, said it will not offer additional funds.

“We believe the GOS [government of Sudan] needs first of all to meet its financial and political commitments” under the peace deal, a U.S. State Department official said.

Sudan’s cash-strapped regime is to provide about 36 percent of the total funding and says that, after delays, it has finally transferred a required initial contribution, less than $200 million.