UN envoy heads to Darfur to verify claim that displaced are returning voluntarily

26 October 2004
Refugee women carrying full jerry cans of water

A senior United Nations envoy to Sudan will travel to the strife-torn region of Darfur tomorrow to inspect the areas where the Sudanese Government has claimed about 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have voluntarily returned to their homes.

Manuel Aranda Da Silva, the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for humanitarian affairs and development, will head to El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters today.

More than 1.45 million IDPs live across Darfur, which has been beset by militia attacks against civilians and fighting between Government forces and rebel groups since early last year.

UN officials have said previously that the overwhelming majority of IDPs do not want to return to their home villages because they remain afraid of fresh attacks from the Janjaweed militias, which are accused of killing and raping thousands of people.

Mr. Eckhard said the UN Advance Mission in Sudan (UNAMIS) is continuing to report security incidents in Darfur, a vast, impoverished region on Sudan's western flank.

Meanwhile, the actress Angelina Jolie, a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is in West Darfur state on a three-day mission to observe the situation faced by IDPs there. Ms. Jolie is slated to hold a press conference in Khartoum tomorrow after ending her visit.

Across the border in eastern Chad, where at least 200,000 refugees from Darfur are living, UNHCR is warning that water supplies for its 11 camps are near exhaustion. In the case of one camp, at Iridimi, the current supply may only last for two more weeks.

UNHCR senior water and sanitation officer Dinesh Shrestha said the agency, which runs the camps with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), knew it would be difficult to maintain water supplies because eastern Chad is extremely arid. This year, the annual rainy season was late and short, and rainfall totals were well below average.

"It's especially hard in the northeast, which has scattered and small, localized pockets of underground water that can't last for such a huge population over there," he said.

Despite near-continuous pumping at Iridimi, the camp's estimated 15,000 refugees are receiving only six litres of water per day - compared to the UNHCR recommended standard of 15 litres during an emergency.

Water experts say there is only a 10 per cent to 15 per cent chance of finding fresh sources of water at Iridimi and that the new sources may only sustain the camp for up to a few months.

UNHCR officials have begun trucking water to Iridimi camp and holding talks with officials in the nearby Chadian town of Iriba to discuss drawing water from the town's supply for a limited period. Some refugees from Iridimi could also be moved to more favourable camps at Kounoungo and other locations.


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