Cablegate: Hac: More Development, Less Food Aid

Published: Mon 1 Oct 2007 01:40 PM
DE RUEHKH #1532/01 2741340
O 011340Z OCT 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A: Khartoum 01469, B: 01472
1. (SBU) Summary: In a lengthy September 26 meeting with CDA
Fernandez, deputy head of the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC)
Hassabo Abdelrahman praised the U.S. role in humanitarian relief
operations in Sudan, but maintained that the focus should shift to
early recovery and development. There was too much food aid, he
claimed, which was flooding the local economy. On the issue of WFP's
shipment of U.S. donated corn-soya blend (CSB) currently blocked at
Port Sudan, Hassabo said that it should be tested by an
international survey team for GMO content. While the past six months
since the expiration of the GMO waiver policy have been a period of
uncertainty for US and other donors' shipments of humanitarian
cereals and other commodities, Sudan is allowing the import of the
majority of food aid donated by the international community, despite
its stated economic concerns. CDA urged Hassabo to cooperate with
the U.S. and the international community in a transparent manner on
these and other issues, citing a lack of trust and dialogue at the
heart of many of the bilateral concerns. End summary.
2. (SBU) While recognizing U.S. humanitarian contributions to Sudan
over the past twenty years, and noting that one quarter of all NGOs
operating in Sudan were U.S.-based, Hassabo lamented that the huge
quantities of grain and other food products being sent to Sudan -
750,000 metric tons in 2006 according to him - were driving down
prices of locally produced food. (Note: WFP imported approximately
490,000 MT of humanitarian food aid in 2006 and 306,000 MT to date
in 2007. This year alone, WFP has utilized cash resources from
donors to purchase nearly 110,000 MT of food produced in Sudan in
the past year. End note.) There was simply too much food aid, he
said, and the vast majority was going to Darfur at the expense of
other regions of the country. (Note: It is true that 70 percent of
WFP's emergency operation is in Darfur; however, nearly half the
total beneficiaries of emergency food assistance are in Darfur, with
ration levels at 100 percent for those IDPs living in camps. In
more stable regions of Sudan, food insecurity is less acute,
therefore less need for food aid. End note.)
3. (SBU) The massive quantities of sorghum and wheat were negatively
affecting the traditional farming sector, he said, in places like
Sennar and Gezira. While there were many truly needy among the 2.7
million people in Darfur receiving humanitarian food assistance, the
modalities of delivering food were flawed. More food should be
bought in other parts of Sudan. Hassabo advocated programs such as
food for work, or food for agriculture rather than "free" food.
(Note: Nearly 2 million beneficiaries of food aid are living in
large, crowded IDP camps and settlements, where these types of
activities would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. End
note.) He also noted that Darfuris preferred millet and sesame oil
to either sorghum or wheat (or lentils or vegetable oil), and that
as a result large quantities of food aid were actually being sold in
Kordofan (Note: WFP has routinely conducts market studies to look
into this issue; while food aid is definitely monetized to some
extent, in the majority of cases it is not above 'normal' levels
where people sell or trade some food aid to buy other household
items and pay for milling of the cereals. End note.)
4. (SBU) Hassabo also blamed excessive food aid in the IDP camps for
limiting the number of people returning to their homes in Darfur. He
suggested large numbers were returning to their lands of origin,
such as the Zaghawa in North Darfur. Tribal reconciliation efforts
were working, he said. There were more than 200,000 voluntary
returnees in Jebel Marra, he claimed, but no humanitarian agencies
there to assist them (only the Sudanese government); there were no
tangible returns for peace, he said. Returnees complained, he
alleged, that only IDPs get international assistance. In a recent
trip with the wali of North Darfur and several Arab ambassadors, he
said, he himself had seen successful reconciliation efforts between
Abala, Turjum, Berti and Zaghawa in villages near Kutum.
5. (SBU) What Sudan needed were real international development
efforts, Hassabo argued. The Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) process
in the south was not working well, and returnees were not seeing the
results they'd expected to accompany the end of violence.
Southerners were not moving back to stay when they saw the lack of
basic services and resources. He also faulted the World Bank for
being too slow on the ground; the Bank had said it would take 32
million USD and 18 months to demine the railway between Bab al Musa
and Wau, so the Sudanese government took SAF and SPLA troops, mainly
engineers, re-trained them and built more than 600 kilometers of
track for less than 1 million USD. "We need quick impact projects,"
he said, or there would be no progress to show before next year's
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census and the 2009 elections. Hassabo also urged the resumption of
the Darfur JAM. "Documentation doesn't equal implementation," he
argued. The U.S. provided one billion USD in aid to Sudan yearly, he
acknowledged, but "people still remember roads." He also requested
technical support and training along the lines of DFID programs.
6. (SBU) CDA agreed that there was real need to move from
humanitarian work to early recovery and development, and briefed
Hassabo on recent DJAM discussions (Ref. A). He also reminded
Hassabo that the U.S. would be funding twenty-six percent of the
costs of the hybrid force. Peace in Darfur had three components, he
said: the hybrid, the political process and development. This past
year, however, the international community had expended incredible
efforts in getting acceptance from the Sudanese for the first
component, delaying the second two. "There is no real difference
between the Sudanese and U.S. agendas in Darfur," CDA said, if the
Sudanese Government really believes in its public statements.
7. (SBU) CDA also urged greater dialogue between Sudan and the
international community: "There is a political issue here, a lack of
trust." Raising the issue of the 4,000 metric tons of WFP corn-soya
blend (CSB) being blocked due to GMO concerns, CDA said he'd sent
dip notes, letters, and demarched "everyone," including MFA Lam Akol
(Ref. B). This could have a negative impact on the Sudanese, CDA
warned, if the international community equated the blocking of
life-saving nutritional supplements with a concerted effort on the
part of the Sudanese government to deprive people in Darfur of food.
This is even worse, if WFP has to cut rations in October, during
Ramadan and before the peace talks.
8. (SBU) In his lengthy rejoinder, Hassabo indicated that if an
international survey group would produce a certificate saying the
CSB was safe for consumption, there would be no problem. "We've only
stopped 4,000 metric tons of food, which had no labels, and released
more than 700,000 metric tons," he said, which demonstrated the
Sudanese government's good intentions. European markets would never
purchase Sudanese products if they contained GMO, Hassabo added.
Hassabo also informed CDA that for any questions on humanitarian
issues, including food aid, one should go directly to him for real
answers not other government ministries. (Comment: USAID has been in
direct dialogue with Hassabo on a multitude of food aid issues over
the past several months, with few positive results thus far. End
9. USAID/Sudan has an extensive history of working with HAC, and
Hassabo in particular, in an effort to address GNU reported concerns
related to food aid impact on the market and concerns over
commodities containing GMO. Since January of this year, when the
government stopped issuing its standard GMO-waivers without notice,
USAID has been working with HAC and WFP principally, as well as with
the Sudanese Standards and Metrology (SSMO) to come to agreement on
the protocols for import of humanitarian food assistance. With more
than 70 percent of WFP food aid imports being distributed to nearly
3 million displaced and conflict-affected in Darfur, and as the
largest donor to WFP (70 percent of food aid received by WFP in
Sudan is provided by USAID), the USG clearly has demonstrated its
commitment to ensuring this assistance continues to reach those in
critical need. USAID has met with Hassabo on a number of occasions
regarding these general food aid issues as well as specifically on
GMO, and continues to strive toward a positive outcome. A detailed
account on these issues and efforts to date will be provided via
10. (SBU) Hassabo also drew a line between politically motivated
activities and humanitarian ones. A "high-level" official from the
Clinton years had told him that the U.S. had significant "interests"
in Sudan - in its land, oil and status on the African continent. CDA
agreed that humanitarian work was sensitive, but cautioned Hassabo
that actions such as the expulsion of the CARE director carried a
heavy political price. (Note: Hassabo also accused OTI contractor
DAI of trying to "influence" the upcoming Sudanese elections. End
11. (SBU) The next six months provide an opportunity to improve
U.S.-Sudan relations, CDA said, but the status quo would have to
change. He pointed out a recent attempt by USAID to travel to
Kassala, which had been denied. Hassabo explained that this was an
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example of poor coordination between various Sudanese agencies,
resulting in misunderstandings. Let's solve these things, CDA said,
and better to do it through dialogue than in the media.
12. (SBU) Comment: Hassabo is obviously a very well-informed
government official on a wide range of issues -more so than many
other interlocutors (this is perhaps not surprising given his prior
work as an intelligence officer in Darfur). Hassabo mentioned
several times his desire to have a better relationship with USAID,
which would be welcome. He also noted that DFID had provided
training and technical support for the HAC, hinting that greater
U.S. engagement with them would lead to greater cooperation. While
his claims of hundreds of thousands of voluntary returnees in Darfur
is the usual government rhetoric, it is important to continue the
dialogue with him on these critical issues while realizing that the
Sudanese regime loves to wage low-level, grinding bureaucratic
battles of this sort.
13. (SBU) Comment continued: CDA and USAID Director Fleuret will
pursue this in an upcoming meeting with Hassabo. We are also
sending a reclama in Arabic to him on the points he raised and S/E
Natsios will raise the issue with senior Sudanese officials. End
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