With one million people driven from their homes and more than 100,000 others fleeing across borders, the situation for the people of Darfur in western Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and is particularly devastating to women and girls, senior United Nations officials said today.
"This is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with so many people in the most belligerent way being chased from their homes. Everything has been taken away from these people. This is tragic," UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris said today in London after leading a humanitarian mission to western Sudan and eastern Chad last week.
Despite a ceasefire signed on 8 April between the Sudanese Government and two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and a consequent reduction of hostilities, the humanitarian crisis continues. The UN has described the conflict in the region as a sort of ethnic cleansing carried out by armed Arab militia against the local black Africa population.
"There's an urgency about our work because people are suffering and the rainy season is just ahead of us and we need to get our work done as much in anticipation of the rainy season as is possible," Mr. Morris said.
He said they had an excellent meeting with donors. "We also then asked the Government for its support to quickly make decisions about applications for visas, for travel permits and the importing of vehicles or other equipment we may need. We made clear to the government how important their quick response to these requests is."
His mission visited the three states of the Darfur region from 28 to 30 April and gathered first-hand information on the humanitarian situation. Mission members also visited Darfur civilian refugees who had fled to eastern Chad, complaining that their villages had sometimes been bombed, they and their relatives had been wounded, raped, or killed and their property had been looted or burned.
The mission called on the Government to speed up the control of armed Arab Janjaweed militias, provide security and protection for displaced Fur, Zaghawas and Massalit people and facilitate access for humanitarian agencies.
Continuing violence and displacement in the Darfur region have devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of women and girls, according to Pamela Delargy, Chief of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Humanitarian Response Unit and a member of the Morris team.
Women and girls have been victimized both during armed attacks and when leaving IDP camps to gather water, fuel wood, or fodder for their animals, Ms. Delargy said.
"As in many other recent conflicts, rape has become a weapon of war in western Sudan, with disastrous consequences for women and girls," she said. "In addition to physical protection, victims of sexual violence need urgent medical treatment, trauma counselling and social support."
Even before the 14 months of strife, many people in Darfur lived in extreme poverty, without access to sufficient health care, education, or other services, UNFPA said.
It has been collaborating with other UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), local authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to increase protection against sexual violence, improve treatment of sexually transmitted infections and other medical conditions and support programmes to treat trauma.
Meanwhile, a high-level fact-finding team, which had gone to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, has returned to Geneva and was finalizing its report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said.