afrol News, 25 May - Time is running out to assist the estimated two million people affected by civil war and ethnic cleansing campaigns in Sudan's Darfur region. With the annual rains just starting, it will soon be very hard to reach these people by road, humanitarian organisations warn. In the worst possible case, Darfur could soon face mass starvation.
A government-sponsored military campaign by the "Arab" Janjaweed militia against the "black African" population of Sudan's western Darfur region has, according to the UN, affected two million people in the half year it has lasted. The militia has destroyed villages, burned houses and harvest, poisoned water, killed livestock and terrorised civilians in a campaign that has left most of Darfur's rural areas deserted.
While an estimated million Darfurians have lost their livelihood but staid in their destroyed homes, up to a million people have left their land, fleeing the fighting and insecurity. Further, an estimated 210,000 are estimated to have fled into neighbouring Chad, according to the latest UN updates.
All these war affected civilians have thus lost any hope of feeding themselves and Sudanese authorities are so far hindering any major operation to assist them. The Sudanese government is accused of doing little to call off Janjaweed militias attacking civilians and humanitarian aid workers in Darfur, but recently promised to give entry visas quickly to relief workers and waive the requirement for permits to travel around Darfur.
Today, aid organisations and UN agencies warn that time is running out to help the Darfur war victims. With the rainy season due to start in a few weeks, relief groups will lose the possibility of launching large-scale operations into the region, which suffers from very poor infrastructure. There are close to no all-weather-roads into the region from Chad, where the organisations are based. Within Darfur, road conditions are even worse.
The UK-based aid organisation Oxfam today warns that a "serious humanitarian crisis" is already unfolding in Darfur. "Food stocks are depleting fast, access to drinking water is limited and makeshift shelters are often flimsy and unable to withstand rain," the group says.
With the annual rains just starting, "some places will become inaccessible; others will take two to three days to reach, instead of four or five hours," according to Oxfam. "The rains will increase the risk of diseases such as cholera and malaria as waste is washed into rivers and stagnant water sits un-drained."
According to the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF) some 700,000 internally displaced people in Darfur already lack access to safe wells and water points. "While every effort we make in health, nutrition and protection is a building block in saving the lives of countless children, clean water goes to the heart of a child's good health in a crisis," UNICEF's JoAnna van Gerpen warns today. Some 60 percent of the displaced people are children.
While the lack of clean water soon may lead to epidemics spreading among the displaced Darfurians, distribution impasses may lead to food shortages and starvation within months.
The Darfur region usually enters a period of food deficit between April and October, when it usually is time to harvest. The ethnic cleansing operations by the Janjaweed militia however have interrupted agricultural works in the region, thus eliminating the normal October harvest. The normal insurance against hunger - livestock - has also mostly been taken from the population by the Janjaweed.
As the Janjaweed militia is on track to success with its ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur, the demand of an international intervention to avoid a possible genocide is growing. The Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group (IGG) today repeated its request for a UN-led military action in Darfur.
- Urgent action is required on several fronts if Darfur 2004 is not to join Rwanda 1994 as shorthand for international shame, said ICG in a new report entitled 'Sudan: Now or never in Darfur'. According to the group, it was already "too late to prevent substantial ethnic cleansing" in Darfur, but there was "just enough" time to save hundreds of thousands of lives now directly threatened by Sudanese troops and militias, as well as by looming famine and disease, the report said, recommending a strong UN intervention.
Meanwhile, there are a growing number of reports of violations of the April cease-fire in Darfur. Darfurian rebel groups yesterday reported that some 45 persons were killed by the Janjaweed militia in a raid on a village south of Nyala in South Darfur. Sudanese authorities however blame the Darfurian rebels for the attack and killings.
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