Darfur: the ACT-Caritas programme

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What is the history of the crisis?

In 2003, conflict between a range of rebel movements, government-backed militias and the Sudanese armed forces erupted in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. The conflict led to the mass displacement of people, widespread killing and the destruction of crops, herds and homes.

Initially the international community was slow to respond, but in March 2004 the UN Resident Coordinator in Sudan forced the situation to international attention by asserting that Darfur was “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

Ten years since the beginning of the crisis, millions of people are still in need of humanitarian aid. According to figures released by the UN in December 2012, there are approximately 3.5 million people receiving food aid, including some 1.4 million people registered in camps. Many of these people have been living in camps since 2003.

How has CAFOD responded?

We have been supporting projects in Darfur since June 2004 as part of a major emergency programme organised by the two main international church-based networks, Caritas Internationalis and Action by Churches Together Alliance (ACT).

In March 2004, CAFOD provided an initial grant to the Diocese of El Obeid for the Nyala parish in South Darfur. In April 2004, the Catholic Bishops in Sudan indicated their preference for CAFOD and other members of the Caritas network to collaborate with ACT rather than mounting a separate response. The ACT-Caritas Darfur Emergency Response programme was launched in June 2004, with an appeal for US$17 million to cover an 18 month period. The goals of the programme were to save lives and reduce suffering while ensuring that three local Church partners could help lead the response to the emergency.

By the end of 2005, the programme’s achievements were substantial, including: the construction and operation of 22 primary health care facilities; the provision of shelter materials to 4,000 households and emergency kits to 62,500 households; the establishment and operation of 15 nutrition centres and 9 psychosocial centres; the construction of 15 permanent and 23 temporary schools; the drilling of 103 boreholes and the construction of 3,000 pit latrines; and the distribution of agricultural seeds and tools to 12,500 households.

Following a request by the Sudanese authorities in December 2007, the programme became fully integrated into Norwegian Church Aid Sudan and changed its name to the “NCA Darfur Programme (supported by ACT and Caritas).”

In March 2009, 13 international aid agencies were asked to leave Sudan and three national agencies were closed – one of which was SUDO, one of the programme’s local partners. The programme agreed to take over some of SUDO’s activities – principally its clinics and feeding centres – and also the activities of two international aid agencies in camps in Zalingei, Central Darfur.

Under a new Strategic Vision agreed in 2010, the programme aimed to move away from the direct provision of services towards a “livelihoods” approach – helping communities to support themselves in sustainable ways.

Following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, all staff of ‘South Sudanese origin’ were obliged to leave Sudan by April 2012. In a severe blow to the programme, one of its local partners Sudanaid was closed by the authorities in April 2012. Following a request by the Bishop of El Obeid, NCA took over management of the health clinics previously managed by Sudanaid. In October 2012 the authorities halted the activities of the programme’s remaining partner, SCC, on the grounds that it was not a registered NGO. Efforts are currently being made to register ERRADA (the humanitarian wing of SCC) in Darfur so that SCC’s programmes may be reopened in 2013.

Despite the many challenges encountered in the years since it was launched, the programme remains one of the largest aid agency programmes in Darfur - providing assistance to around 500,000 people, employing over 300 staff (of which 6 are currently international staff) and costing US$9.4 million in 2013.

With the Government of Sudan planning to extend its policy of ‘Sudanisation’ so that international aid agencies withdraw from delivering aid directly, the future structure of the programme is uncertain. Nevertheless, the ACT Alliance and Caritas Internationalis remain committed to continuing the programme and its support to the people of South, Central and East Darfur.

What does the programme provide?

The programme provides:

  • Clean water and sanitation, through boreholes and solar powered water systems
  • Health clinics and health training
  • Treatment for malnutrition
  • Schools
  • Seeds, tools and training
  • Support for people in making a living, so that families can be self-sufficient
  • Peace-building initiatives between communities

It reaches around half a million people every year.