Sudan: Emergency assistance for the displaced in Darfur

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Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

The ICRC distributed relief items to thousands of people displaced by communal clashes in the Muhajiryya locality of southern Darfur in early October. The organization has also continued to carry out its regular humanitarian activities in rural areas of Darfur. Elsewhere in Sudan, ICRC staff have dealt with other emergencies, including floods in Aweil, in the south.

Fighting in South Darfur

Thousands of civilians, mostly women and children, were displaced by communal fighting over cattle and other livestock around Muhajiriyya town and the villages of Sinet and Shabab in South Darfur in early October. Most fled to safer areas in Muhajiriyya, which is four to five hours by car to the east of Nyala, the state capital.

The majority of the displaced sought shelter under trees and in a nearby wadi (seasonal river) where water is readily available. But with the imminent onset of winter, their living conditions could quickly deteriorate.

The fighting created a precarious security situation in the area, making access to the displaced even more difficult. The ICRC's impartial, neutral and independent approach enabled it to obtain the necessary security guarantees from all parties involved in the armed confrontation before sending an assessment team to the area.

Following a visit to Labado town and Muhajiriyya - where most of the displaced have sought shelter - and consultations with the communities and the local authorities, the ICRC last week distributed relief items to those forced to flee their homes. "People were left without the bare necessities," said Juan Carlos Carrera, the head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Nyala, who supervised the distribution efforts. "We provided sleeping mats, clothes and tarpaulins for more than 4,000 people, including some elderly and disabled."

Thanks to the tarpaulins, the displaced people were able to leave the wadi for higher ground. "This will help prevent contamination of water sources in the wadi," said Ismail Shomo, an ICRC field officer who took part in the distribution. "The relief items we distributed are important because winter is approaching and the people need proper shelter to face the cold."

"The distribution took place at just the right time. We're in bad straits," said Abakir, one of the displaced people from Sinet. "I needed to replace my torn clothes and I have no money to buy new ones."

Helping rural communities

In Darfur, the ICRC focuses its relief activities on vulnerable rural communities that are often not reached by other humanitarian organizations. It aims to enable people to stay in their villages rather than having to leave for camps hosting the displaced. The ICRC helps communities to improve their access to water and to support the displaced people many of them are hosting.

Water committees in Foroj and Um Il-Maharek, in North Darfur, which were set up with ICRC assistance in 2007, have been given spare parts for hand pumps together with pipes and other supplies to ensure that they can independently maintain an adequate supply of clean water.

In Seleia, a town near West Darfur's border with Chad, the ICRC upgraded the water network. Across Darfur, the organization repaired dozens of hand pumps, water yards and hand-dug wells. Thanks to the ICRC's support, nearly 100,000 people benefited directly from improved water supply in August and September.

In Gereida camp, one of the biggest camps in the world hosting people displaced by armed conflict, the ICRC distributed monthly food rations to 130,000 people. It also helped them obtain clean drinking water, preventive and curative health care, and nutrition and sanitation services.

Red Cross and Red Crescent help flood victims in southern Sudan

Following mid-September floods in Aweil, northern Bahr-Il-Ghazal State, the ICRC, the Sudanese Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies provided badly needed aid for nearly 7,000 people. Dozens of Red Crescent volunteers distributed tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, soap, buckets and jerrycans.

Volunteers continue to conduct water-chlorination and hygiene promotion campaigns at various water points in an effort to prevent disease. The ICRC supports Sudanese Red Crescent activities in southern Sudan and endeavours to boost the National Society's capacity to respond to emergencies.

Enhancing war-surgery skills in Darfur and South Sudan

Despite the peace process, southern Sudan continues to experience a certain level of armed violence. Twice this year, the ICRC deployed its field surgical team, based in Darfur, to southern Sudan to operate on people wounded by firearms and other weapons. The team has been performing life-saving surgical procedures in Darfur since 2005.

To enhance the treatment of the war-wounded the ICRC also organized war-surgery seminars in Juba, southern Sudan, and Aljeneina, West Darfur, for more than 50 local health professionals, including surgeons and other doctors, nurses and medical assistants.

Dr Günter Wimhöfer, an ICRC surgeon who has worked in war zones such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya for over 20 years, led the seminars. "The aim of the training is to share our expertise with surgeons in Sudan, in order to enhance their skill in treating patients wounded by weapons," he explained.

Telephone links vital for Guantanamo internees

"Two years after our arrest, we were allowed for the first time to communicate with our loved ones through Red Cross messages," explained a Sudanese formerly held at the US camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Sudanese media following his release. He underlined the important role Red Cross messages played in maintaining contact with his family after he was arrested in Pakistan in 2001.

Until the end of 2007, these messages were the only link between most internees and their families, although internees were also allowed to receive family photographs. Since early 2008, the authorities in Guantanamo have also authorized internees to make one telephone call per year to speak directly with their families.

The Sudanese former internee was allowed to telephone his loved ones for the first time only one month before his release. "The call was organized through the International Committee of the Red Cross," he explained, surrounded by close members of his family. "It represented a huge breakthrough for all of us."

The ICRC has conducted 34 visits to Guantanamo Bay internees since January 2002. There are currently approximately 250 individuals held at Guantanamo. By June 2008, the ICRC had facilitated the exchange of nearly 40,500 Red Cross messages between the internees and their families in more than 30 countries. Over the past two years, Sudanese families have sent more than 200 messages to their sons held at Guantanamo.

For further information, please contact:

Saleh Dabbakeh, ICRC Khartoum, tel: +249 912 137 764 or +249 183 476 464

Marcal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 32 24 or +41 22 730 24 58