Sudan

Sudan: Rains arrive in Darfur

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The rainy season has now arrived in parts of Darfur with Red Cross workers reporting the arrival of the first rains in Gereida town, South Darfur. The rains, which traditionally start in the South and gradually move North, bring mixed emotions for the millions of people affected by the conflict who are scattered throughout Darfur, a region the size of France.

In remote villages, where people are often cut off and unable to access aid due to widespread violence and insecurity, villagers will be desperately waiting for the rains to come and nourish the crops they have planted. This is made all the more urgent by the fact that in Darfur there is only one main planting season so this could be the only food available for many, many months.

However Gereida is also home to one of the world's largest camps for the internally displaced, housing over 100,000 vulnerable people. In the camp International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) staff are keeping people alive by providing vital aid, but for them, and for other aid agencies, the rains bring with them an added fear.

Ros Armitage, Conflict Manager at the British Red Cross and recently returned from Darfur said: "The arrival of rains in Darfur is a mixed blessing for the millions of vulnerable people stranded throughout the region. On the one hand people who have been able to stay at home, but to whom aid agencies have limited access, desperately need the rains for their crops to grow. On the other hand there are hundreds of thousands of people in desperate conditions in camps for whom the rainy season will bring further misery and the threat of diseases like diahorrea and malaria. Maintaining access to clean drinking water, medical services and functioning sanitation systems is a vital guard against such threats."

Aid agencies have been issuing warnings of the forthcoming rains to the international community recently and urging people to donate to help them stockpile. This will mean that much needed relief items are pre-positioned where they are needed before for the inevitable coming wet season.

The rainy season traditionally falls between May and September but it is from July that the amount of rain falling greatly increases. It is this period that the aid agencies fear as roads will become impassable making access more difficult. It is of utmost importance that sanitation systems remain operational in order to reduce the risk of water borne diseases breaking out.

Ros continued: "For people living in camps, often under nothing more than a plastic sheet, the rains will mean that living conditions will get much worse. The dry and dusty camps will become swamped with water and add to this the threat of outbreak of diseases such as cholera and you can begin to imagine how truly awful the situation can become. For aid agencies the very real fear is that delivery of basic aid items which are currently keeping people alive will become difficult, if not impossible at times, as roads become flooded. We still have time to stop this happening but we urgently need more funds if we are going to stockpile goods before the rains become heavier."

The Disasters Emergency Committee has launched an urgent appeal for Darfur. To donate please go to www.dec.org.uk or call the 24-hour donations phone line - 0870 60 60 900.

ENDS

For interviews with British Red Cross spokespeople just returned from the region, or for pictures and case studies from inside Gereida Camp, please call the press office on 0207 877 7039/7044

Notes to editors

The DEC member agencies taking part in the appeal are British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.

What your money could buy:

- £4 will feed 1 critically malnourished child for 1 week

- £20 will feed 5 children for 1 week in the community based therapeutic centre

- £35 provides 1 week's supply of oral re-hydration salts for 100 children

The British Red Cross response

The British Red Cross has been working in Darfur since 2004 after the internal conflict erupted providing healthcare, nutritional support and safe drinking water to people in the town of Gereida.

In a joint project with the Australian Red Cross, the British Red Cross currently runs a a therapeutic and supplementary feeding centre for severely and moderately malnourished children in Gereida camp. However, as the crisis has escalated in Darfur, the British Red Cross has opened a new appeal to help it continue its vital work in the camp and to support the ICRC's wider work. Currently there are 4 British Red Cross personnel working in Sudan including a nurse and a water engineer.

The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.

We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.

For further information

Becky Webb

Contact number

0207 877 7039 or out of hours 07659 145 095