Crisis in Sudan: Update - 26 Jun 2006
- 2 million people- nearly one in three people in Darfur - have fled their homes and are sheltering in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs)
- A further 200,000 refugees from Darfur are in camps over the border in Chad
- 3.4 million people - that's more than half Darfur's entire population - are now reliant on humanitarian aid
Such a catastrophic situation will not improve without an end to the ongoing conflict and horrific violence. In early May, the government and one of the main rebel groups signed the Darfur Peace Agreement. But civilians continue to face daily threats of violence and displacements of entire communities. For the majority of displaced - massed in sprawling makeshift camps and overcrowded towns - the present insecurity throughout Darfur means that returning home is impossible.
Oxfam is working to provide people in Darfur with clean water and sanitation systems, and to promote good hygiene practice in the overcrowded camps. Our programmes within Darfur currently reach 400,000 people, with a further 126,000 beneficiaries in refugee camps across the border in Chad .
Since mid-2005 the situation in Darfur has been deteriorating further with every passing week, with almost daily reports of civilians being attacked or forced from their homes. Even the people living inside the camps are still not safe. Venturing just a short way outside to collect essential firewood or go to the market risks harassment, assault or death. The people of Darfur urgently need protection from violence and the current African Union intervention force needs to be greatly strengthened if it is to make the region safe and secure for civilians.
Aid cannot get through
The increasing violence and lawlessness throughout Darfur is restricting the ability of Oxfam and other humanitarian organisations to do our work. Roads are frequently too dangerous to travel on; aid vehicles are increasingly being hijacked or attacked, and staff are placed in growing danger. Parts of rural Darfur are completely inaccessible for aid agencies. Many of Oxfam's programmes are now reached by helicopter because roads are too insecure, and in places where there are no helicopter services we are often simply unable to get there. In Shangil Tobai in North Darfur for example, we have recently suspended some programmes because humanitarian vehicles are regularly attacked and hijacked and it is simply too dangerous to operate. It is not just staff that cannot get through to camps; essential equipment and supplies are also unable to get through to those in need. Hundreds of thousands of people are going without desperately needed assistance because of the rising insecurity.
People want to return home
Many of the people in the IDP and refugee camps have now been there for nearly three years. They want nothing more than to be able to go back to the homes, villages and fields where they and their families have lived for generations. But the ongoing conflict makes it impossible to do so: it is simply too dangerous for them to leave the camps. Humanitarian organisations such as Oxfam are working to make life in the camps as bearable as possible, but greater protection and security is needed.
What is life like in the camps?
Most people arrived in the camps with virtually nothing. Some people were able to bring animals or a few pots or blankets (if they were not killed or stolen in attacks), but many came with just the clothes they were wearing. Even for those lucky enough to bring animals such as donkeys and cows it is difficult to find food with which to feed them, and taking them out to graze puts the owners at serious risk of attack.
The makeshift huts in which families shelter are made of little more than sticks and plastic sheeting. Many of the camps are the size of cities, home to tens of thousands of people packed tightly together with only the most basic facilities, in overcrowded conditions that are a breeding ground for diseases. The large humanitarian response to the crisis has brought most levels of disease in the camps to manageable levels. However, the main feeling in many of the camps is one of helplessness and frustration - people are trapped here, unable to return home, with limited access to education or any kind of economic activity. The majority of people in the camps are women and children, and many of the young children have now spent a large part of their lives living there.
In some areas, the massive new displacements caused by the deterioration in security have created enormous challenges for organisations such as Oxfam. In the town of Gereida in South Darfur for example, the camp has more than doubled in size in recent months and is now home to more than 110,000 people. The new arrivals are having to make do with only basic access to food, water and other needs because the insecurity has prevented humanitarian agencies from fully responding.