More than four years into the Darfur conflict, the crisis continues on a massive scale.
It is nearly four years since the start of the Darfur crisis. Today the situation is as desperate as ever. Oxfam is one of the few aid agencies currently working in all three Darfur states and Chad; however, many of our programs in Gereida are currently suspended due to a lack of security.
The sheer scale of suffering is incredible:
- Over 2 million people - nearly one in three in Darfur - have had to flee their homes and are sheltering in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs)
- A further 230,000 refugees from Darfur are in camps over the border in neighbouring Chad
- Up to 4 million people - more than half Darfur's entire population - are now reliant on humanitarian aid
- As the conflict increasingly spills over into Chad, the number of Chadian people displaced by violence has quadrupled in the past 10 months to 120,000.
Humanitarian response under threat...
Aid agencies' vital response to this enormous human suffering is being severely obstructed by the ongoing violence. Humanitarian workers and operations are increasingly being targeted on an almost daily basis. Vehicles are being hijacked and robbed; staff assaulted and intimidated while carrying out their work; and offices broken into and looted. As the armed movements split into ever smaller factions, Darfur has become more lawless and volatile than ever.
As a result of the violence throughout Darfur, the ability of aid agencies to access the people in need is now at its lowest level since the very earliest days of the conflict.
In one of the worst incidents, in December 2006, armed men entered the compounds of Oxfam and other agencies in Gereida, South Darfur. An Oxfam staff member was beaten and another agency worker raped, and 12 humanitarian vehicles stolen in one single night. Gereida is Darfur's largest camp and as a direct result of the incident, assistance to 130,000 displaced people has been greatly reduced.
Large parts of rural Darfur are now completely inaccessible for aid agencies. With many roads unsafe to use due to the risk of hijacking, most humanitarian access now relies on helicopter. However, helicopter services only go to the larger towns and camps - in villages and rural areas we are often simply unable to get there.
Even inside the camps themselves is becoming more insecure. Armed men have entered the camps to harass civilians and aid workers, steal vehicles and loot equipment - all in broad daylight and without fear of getting caught.
... As the humanitarian need increases
Meanwhile, regular attacks on civilians continue to force people from their homes. In the first two months of 2007, more than 80,000 more people fled the ongoing violence. Many of these people have had to flee for the second, third or even fourth time as they desperately seek refuge and protection. Many of the vast camps are already operating at capacity - some are the size of cities and shelter around 100,000 people.
The massive humanitarian response - among the biggest in the world - has now largely managed to stabilize living conditions in the camps, but as humanitarian access rapidly decreases there is a danger this could be reversed. There are increasing fears that we could see a return to the devastating levels of malnutrition and disease that were seen at the start of the crisis.
Oxfam providing essential assistance to half a million people
Despite these enormous security problems, Oxfam remains fully committed to assisting the people of Darfur. We have programmes in all three Darfur states and eastern Chad - in towns and villages as well as the camps - and are providing around 500,000 people affected by the crisis with clean water, sanitation, and public health and livelihoods programmes.
Life in the camps
Most people arrive in the camps with virtually nothing. Some were able to bring animals and 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.
In many camps, the makeshift huts in which many of the families shelter are made of little more than sticks and plastic sheeting. However, some camps, such as Abu Shouk on the outskirts of El Fasher, have taken on an air of permanence, with stone buildings replacing the tents. With the conflict showing no sign of ending, many people expect to be stuck in the camps for a long time to come.
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 economic opportunities. Leaving the camp immediately exposes them to the risk of violence - even venturing out to collect essential firewood can risk harassment, sexual assault or death. 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. The impact of the crisis on a whole generation is likely to have enormous consequences for Darfur's future.
In need of immediate protection... and a long term solution
The people of Darfur urgently need protection from violence. The African Union force that is deployed to protect civilians is under-funded, under-staffed and unable to keep people safe. It has just 7,000 personnel to cover an area as large as France. It is increasingly being targeted itself, and has had staff assaulted, abducted and killed.
The force on the ground desperately needs strengthening, but the most urgent need is to increase the pressure on all parties to the conflict to stop attacks on civilians, stop targeting humanitarian workers and operations, and make meaningful efforts to return to the political process.
What is Oxfam doing?
Despite being hampered by insecurity, and the sheer scale of the crisis, Oxfam is helping more than 500,000 people in Darfur and Chad, working with communities to fight the spread of disease and save lives. We provide vital clean water, build latrines and washing facilities, and distribute essential items such as buckets and jerry cans for carrying water, soap, ground sheets and blankets.
We work in close co-ordination with local people to ensure that our work meets the real needs and priorities of Darfur, involving communities at every step of the decision-making process. In particular, we work with women's groups and other marginalized sectors of society to ensure that everyone benefits from our programs. We train hundreds of community volunteers to educate others about sanitation and personal hygiene, and we recruit attendants from within the IDP communities to keep toilets and washing facilities clean, and to make sure water sources are protected. A lot of our work is with children - using entertaining plays, music and school activities to pass on hygiene education messages and influence behaviour at a vital early age.
Our programs are designed not only to keep people healthy and reduce disease, but also to help people maintain their basic human dignity. Alongside buckets we give out soap and sanitary cloths, clean clothes and sheeting to help construct shelters. We implement livelihoods programs to reduce the reliance on aid.
Oxfam in Darfur
Oxfam has been working in Darfur for more than twenty years. We first responded to the 1985 drought in the region and have remained ever since, working to assist local communities with livelihood and health projects. The extensive local knowledge, and the strong relationships with local communities and organisations, that we have built up over the last two decades have greatly helped our understanding and response to the current crisis.
Latest facts and figures
How many are we helping?
Around 538,000 people are currently benefiting directly from Oxfam's response to the Darfur humanitarian crisis - 475,000 people in Darfur and 63,000 people in Chad.
How many staff do we have?
To run programs assisting half a million people requires quite a large team. Oxfam currently has around 250 Sudanese staff and 20 expatriate staff working in Darfur, plus many more volunteers from within the IDP camps themselves and half a dozen expatriate support staff based in Khartoum. Many of our staff have worked for Oxfam or other humanitarian agencies for many years, and we are represented by nationalities from all over the world, including from: Australia, Cote D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, India, Iraq, Kenya (a lot of Kenyans!), Liberia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan (quite a few Pakistanis too!), Philippines, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
And what do they do?
They include engineers, public health promoters, accountants, logisticians, project managers, protection advisers, well drillers, HR advisers, food security analysts, administrators, and the support staff needed to keep a programme of this size running.
Where are we working?
Oxfam is one of the few aid agencies currently working in all three Darfur states and Chad. In Darfur we currently work in the following camps and towns: Abu Shouk camp, Al Salaam camp, Kebkabiya town and the surrounding villages, and Shangil Tobai camp in North Darfur; Gereida and Kalma camps in South Darfur; and in and around Um Dukhun town in West Darfur. However, many of our programmes in Gereida are currently suspended due to a lack of security. Work in other locations is also frequently disrupted.
In Chad we currently work in Djabal and Goz Amir refugee camps and are expanding our work in new camps for Internally Displaced People around Goz Beida.
Oxfam also continues to work elsewhere in Sudan - in the capital, Khartoum, Red Sea State, Bahr El Jabel, Upper Nile, Bahr el Ghazal and Western Equatoria.