After almost three years of conflict that has killed tens of thousands and forced 2 million to flee their homes, the children of Darfur today continue to face significant threats due to a potent and persistent mix of ongoing fighting, insecurity, drought, crop failure and economic collapse.
While more than 1.5 million children living in and around camps for the displaced now have access to some of the most complete social services in Darfur's history, a daily reality of insecurity and economic paralysis dominates the lives of Darfur's children - both those in and around the camps and the nearly 2.5 million who live beyond. With little prospect of immediate change on the horizon, these factors suggest a bleak future for an entire generation.
The Idea of Child Alert
This is the first of a series of reports on children in countries-in-crisis, where it is traditionally difficult to raise attention. The aim is to convey the core problems facing children in these countries at a particular point of time.
This Child Alert seeks to serve as a landmark, examining the question: What are the forces shaping the lives of Darfur's children today, more than two years after the start of the conflict that displaced millions and altered the balance of life in the region? And by looking at this present state of affairs, what is the likely future for these children and, by extension, Darfur?
It surveys all available independent reports and international news coverage, and draws upon first-person reporting from across Darfur that included extensive conversations with children, families and workers in the field. The findings are not hopeful, but they are realistic.
- The economy is rapidly declining as insecurity strangles commerce, agriculture, and the raising of livestock, leading to deepening reliance on international aid. The struggle for food is almost certainly set to increase during 2006.
- Conditions are worsening for children who live outside the displacement camps, in areas unreached by humanitarian aid.
- Displacement camps and villages continue to be attacked. Civillians face a multitude of security risks, including the daily prospect of rape as girls and women gather firewood.
- People are living in a virtual state of lockdown, unable to fully pursue independent lives, trapping families and children in a state of bare survival and little hope. There are no answers in this report. There is only a picture of the lives of children today, and a summary of the difficult conditions that confine them to tomorrows that look little better. Our aim is to jar those with the power to influence events into asking how their choices and actions affect Darfur's children.
We are indebted to the fine work of those whose material we have drawn from, and to the tireless work of our implementing partners in Darfur.
This report does not focus on the roots or immediate impact of the Darfur conflict. This has been covered extensively in numerous reports by the United Nations, universities, non-governmental organizations and others. However, a few basic historical and contextual points are useful in understanding the current state of children in Darfur. The area consists of three provinces - North, South and West Darfur - comprising 500,000 square kilometers and 6 million people. The main towns are more than 1,000 kilometers from the capital, Khartoum, a distance that has kept the region on the periphery of Sudanese politics and policies. A pivotal issue in the current conflict is this marginalization: the desperately poor region has been neglected by the central authorities since colonial times and has limited infrastructure and social services.
The conflict has been classified as one of pro-government Arab tribes fighting African rebels. However, the labels 'Arab' and 'African' are viewed as a false dichotomy by both Sudanese and outside observers because of the interconnected nature of the tribes, which are all Muslim. In reality, it is a complex and often fluid mix of ethnicity and livelihood which distinguishes groups. For generations, the nomadic herders and settled farmers lived in symbiosis. But population growth coupled with a series of droughts and desertification has led to dwindling resources and, consequently, competition and conflict.
The spark for the current crisis is generally considered to be a March 2003 rebel raid on Sudanese military aircraft and soldiers at the airport in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur. The Sudan Liberation Movement, with limited support from the Justice and Equality Movement, launched the attack to publicize their demands that the region not be overlooked in the highly visible and internationally-supported negotiations to end the war with the South. Taken by surprise, the government responded with military operations. When attempts to route out insurgents failed, proxy militias, drawn in part from local nomadic tribes, responded with scorched earth tactics reminiscent of the war in the South.
The result is one of the world's most serious ongoing humanitarian emergencies.
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