Funding in Southern Sudan and a peace agreement in Darfur are key ingredients for resolving the humanitarian crisis in the two regions, a senior United Nations official said today, wrapping up a four-day visit to Sudan.

The UN and its aid partners have appealed for $1.9 billion for this year for the country, making it the largest humanitarian operation in the world.

Food insecurity and rising malnutrition caused by poor rains and crop failures, along with higher food prices, are among the factors which have led to a new humanitarian crisis in Southern Sudan, said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

As many as 1.5 million people in the region face severe food insecurity, while tribal violence has so far claimed 700 lives and uprooted 90,000 people. Continued attacks by the notorious Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has also contributed to insecurity, displacement and deaths.

“All this adds up to a very worrying situation against the background of high poverty and poor human development indicators in a number of areas, as well as the political uncertainties ahead of the 2011 referendum,” Mr. Holmes said.

Southern Sudan will vote on independence early next year as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of civil war with the northern-based national Government.

Just over one quarter of the $531 million requested for humanitarian assistance for Southern Sudan has been received so far, Mr. Holmes noted, with efforts to pre-position essential stocks before the rainy season hindered by transport and logistical constraints. He welcomed the $35 million contribution made by the Government of Southern Sudan to tackle food insecurity.

On Darfur, the official said that little has changed since his last visit to the war-ravaged region last year, shortly after Khartoum expelled over a dozen aid agencies following the issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

While major gaps in response have been filled, quality and capacity remain below previous levels in some areas, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Bureaucratic impediments and insecurity are impeding the ability to help those in need, as exemplified by recent fighting between the Government and rebels, inter-tribal conflict and the unresolved abduction of a staff member from the United States working for a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Seven years of war between military forces and rebel groups in Darfur have killed some 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million more from their homes.

“We desperately need to see a proper ceasefire in Darfur and a definitive political settlement, so we can move away from a focus on humanitarian aid and towards the recovery, reconstruction and development the region so badly requires,” Mr. Holmes said. “In the meantime, we will continue to work as closely as we can with the Government to address the problems and to make sure as fully as we can that humanitarian needs are met.”

The official's visit to Sudan, his fifth since 2007, took him to Southern Sudan and Darfur, wrapping up today in Khartoum, where he met with Government, UN and NGO representatives.