Emergency profile: Sudan's Darfur crisis
LONDON (AlertNet) - A 14-month-old conflict in the remote Darfur region of western Sudan has become one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with more than a million people forced from their homes and access by aid agencies extremely difficult.
Relief organisations are calling for urgent supplies of food, water, medicines and materials for shelter, even as Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, continue terrorising displaced villagers both in Sudan and across the Chad border.
Here is a profile of the humanitarian disaster, which the United Nations has described as "ethnic cleansing" and a "crisis out of control".
U.N. human rights investigators have accused Sudanese government troops and Arab militias of unleashing a "reign of terror" against black Africans in Darfur. Reports of executions, rape and torture have prompted officials to liken abuses in Darfur to Rwanda's genocide in 1994.
The conflict began in February 2003 when armed rebels in the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) attacked Sudanese troops, accusing the government of neglecting the remote, arid area and arming Arab militias to loot and burn African villages.
The government describes the rebels as bandits.
Another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, soon joined forces with the SLM/A. The government responded by bombing towns and villages suspected of harbouring insurgents, forcing civilians to flee.
"As the fighting has intensified over the past year, the main perpetrators of violence against civilians appear to be a militia aligned with, and supported by, the Sudanese government army, known as 'Arab militia' or the Janjaweed," the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said in a recent report, Humanitarian issues in Darfur, Sudan.
Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the Janjaweed, often dressed in Sudanese military uniforms and accompanied by government troops, began burning villages in April 2003, slaughtering thousands, carrying out gang rapes and looting property and livestock.
Khartoum denies it supports the Janjaweed, saying the militias are merely outlaws.
In early April, the government and the two rebel groups signed a 45-day ceasefire. The deal included a halt to hostilities, the release of all prisoners and an agreement to hold peace talks at the end of the 45 days.
The parties agreed to facilitate humanitarian access to civilian populations in need. The deal was also meant to pave the way for a "fair and lasting" solution of the Darfur crisis.
But aid agencies say humanitarian access remains severely limited, with fighting continuing near the border with Chad and militias attacking displaced people in camps.
Government restrictions on travel are also hindering access. "The government has restricted relief activities to urban centres and IDP camps in areas under its control," the ODI said.
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS FLEE
About a million people have been displaced internally, according to United Nations estimates. More than 110,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad after attacks by government and militia forces.
For a map showing where villagers have fled on both sides of the border, see Darfur's displaced.
According to U.S. NGO Refugees International, some 80 percent of refugees in Chad are women and children, suggesting that many men are being killed in Darfur or are staying behind to fight.
Guido Sabatinelli, the World Health Organisation's Sudan representative, has said since the ceasefire aid workers have had access to almost two-thirds of those affected by the conflict, compared with a third before the truce.
SEVERE WATER SHORTAGES
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), many new IDP settlements are in remote areas far from water points and need urgent water deliveries.
"In addition, overcrowding within IDP camps that are not equipped with access to safe water and sanitation is likely to lead to outbreaks of cholera, meningitis, measles and acute diarrhoeal diseases," OCHA said.
UNICEF has prepared about 200 boreholes to help more than 100,000 people. It seeks to rehabilitate 300 additional water points for 150,000 people in Darfur's three states.
FOOD STOCKS DEPLETED
Existing food aid stocks are in need of urgent replenishment, OCHA said.
Farmers must also be able to return to their villages to plant their crops before the rains. If they are unable to do so, they will have to rely on food aid for the next year.
Returning maybe difficult, however, with the presence of the militias near the camps and many villages destroyed. Refugees in Chad say Sudanese soldiers are also preventing them from re-crossing the border.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has identified Kutum and Kebkabiya in North Darfur and Mornei and Zalengi in West Darfur as strategic points for pre-positioning food stocks ahead of the rainy season.
SHELTER MATERIALS EXHAUSTED
The United Nation's Country Team in Sudan said that as of April 20 its supplies of shelter materials for internally displaced people were completely exhausted.
CHILDREN BEAR BRUNT OF CRISIS
The World Health Organisation says child malnutrition rates among IDPs are about 50 percent, with one-third severely affected. Mortality rates among children under five in the camps are 6.8 per 10,000, about seven times the norm.
Médecins Sans Frontières said it had distributed survival rations to 14,500 children on April 22 and 23, the first since food stocks ran out at the beginning of the month. It said that mobilising aid efforts has been slow and assistance was "utterly inadequate".
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has vaccinated more than 48,000 children between the ages of two and 15 against meningitis in several camps and near-by communities in northern Darfur. It aims to vaccinate a further 50,000 in western Darfur.
UNICEF and WHO aim to vaccinate 2.6 million children against measles in a campaign starting in mid-May.
A programme to trace and reunify children who have been separated from their families is underway in northern Darfur, led by UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Save the Children-UK.
See also our FACTBOX-NGOs respond to Sudan's Darfur crisis.
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