International Relief Agency Assesses Urgent Conditions in Darfur

After traveling to Sudan last week to assess humanitarian and security conditions in Darfur, Maryland-based CRS gives their evaluation and recommendations
( [email protected] ) Aug 14, 2004 03:35 PM EDT

The situation in West Darfur is now facing a second, slower evolving disaster with grace consequences resulting from insecurity of food and livelihood, and outbreaks of diseases, reported Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Last week, CRS President and CEO Ken Hackett and a delegation traveled to Sudan to assess humanitarian and security conditions in South and West Darfur. Hackett is the first president of a U.S. private voluntary organization to visit Darfur since the crisis began.

From August 1-5, Hackett traveled to Sudan with Bishop John Ricard and Father Mike Perry of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and visited with high-level Sudanese government and church officals, as well as with internally displaced Sudanese in Ummgosen and Tonkatir camps near Mershing, South Darfur.

Currently, over 1.2 million displaced Sudanese are facing insecurity, unprotected access to food, and potential outbreaks of disease after the fighting that broke out in Darfur in February 2003. After accessing humanitarian and security conditions in South Africa and West Darfur, CRS estimated that at least 200,000 have been displaced in South Darfur, and roughly 500,000 in West Darfur.

“Security conditions are volatile and inconsistent, endangering any ability for displaced persons to voluntarily return to their villages, as well as aid agencies to effectively respond,” said Hackett. “We’ve been told that militia are present near settlements and continue to attack villages and border areas. The result is few safeguards for populations already vulnerable, and unprotected access to basic means for survival.”

In late July, CRS conducted four humanitarian assessments in South and West Darfur – specifically in and around the Nyala and El Geneina townships – and identified three major threats to the population: Outbreaks of disease; food insecurity from both failure to produce crops this year and insufficient food aid; and as yet inadequate levels of donor support to begin a comprehensive emergency response.

“Dysentery, malaria and hepatitis could wipe out the gains made in the past months to reduce malnutrition and mortality,” said CRS Program Advisor Mary Hennigan, who conducted assessments in Darfur in early August.

While aid agencies have access to basic relief items – such as plastic sheeting, soap, blankets and water cans – other items are urgently in need: Mosquito nets, sleeping mats, water cans (10 liters and 20 liters collapsible), clothing and sanitary items. Some settlements are lacking shelter materials. In situations where the internally displaced have settled in towns and on the edge of villages, the host communities’ limited supply of water and food has been further depleted.

In response, CRS has committed an initial $1 million to its efforts in Darfur, with plans to increase funding as its operations expand. CRS has established offices in Khartoum and the town of El Geneina in West Darfur, and is implementing operations to include the distribution of nonfood items; training interventions and programs; water and sanitation; psychosocial support; relief commodities; and shelter assistance. CRS has provided relief and development programs in Sudan since 1972.

In a statement made by CRS, the organization made the following recommendations:

Civilian Protection

· The Government of Sudan (GoS) must make every effort to ensure security of the civilian population in Darfur, and restrict forced return of displaced populations.

· The GoS must implement and respect the joint communiqué signed by the UN and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to hold Janjaweed leaders accountable, disarm the groups and grant freedom of movement to aid workers.

Humanitarian Response

· U.S. Foreign policy must prioritize Sudan, and international humanitarian response must increase significantly to address disease and malnutrition.

· Donors should rapidly fund UN appeals beyond the current 40 percent, and the UN should have logistical support to move equipment and food into Darfur.

African Union (AU) Monitoring

· The U.S. and other countries should reinforce and contribute to the international monitoring team led by the AU – including protection force, personnel, financing, supplies, transport, command support, communications and leadership as needed to ensure independent monitoring operations.

· The AU mandate should be strengthened to include protection and assistance for the civilian delivery of humanitarian aid; AU monitors should investigate without interference.

Human Rights Monitoring

· The U.S. should work through the UN Security Council and UN Human Rights Commission for the immediate deployment of UN human rights monitors in Darfur and for the expansion of their mandate.

· The UN should investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur.