Darfur: a deteriorating situation
09-02-2005 Press Briefing
Darfur's civilian population is still living in fear, while the humanitarian situation in the region has worsened. Most at risk are those living in rural areas. This was the message of the ICRC's Delegate-General for Africa, Christoph Harnisch, on returning from his recent mission to Sudan.
At a press briefing in Geneva, Mr. Harnisch spoke of a severely deteriorating situation in an environment marked by suspicion, fear and lawlessness.
" You can see fear in the faces of the people you meet and there are numerous reports of violence. It is a grim picture and there is no place for optimism. "
An environment of fear and hatred
" Darfur today has become a conflict where the level of direct confrontation between government troops and rebel forces is quite low but the suffering of the civilian population is high, " explains Harnisch.
The most vulnerable are those living in rural areas, said Harnisch, where there is no protection system in place at all other than that provided by the ICRC and a few NGOs active among these isolated communities. He said the very presence of the ICRC or other organizations in many remote communities decreased their vulnerability as local deals had to be struck to allow aid to be distributed.
The ICRC also continues to document the widespread violations of international humanitarian law that have characterized the conflict and enters into a dialogue with armed groups to promote a better respect of IHL.
Although the distribution of essential food and non-food items is now well established for hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) nearer to cities, rural residents are still highly exposed. This led to the ICRC shifting its emphasis from IDPs to the rural population during the course of 2004.
" The displacement of so many people disrupted the micro-economic environment, " explained Harnisch, " This year's harvest will be between 25% and 50% lower than in normal years and most rural populations will be affected by food shortages. "
The looting of both livestock and the meagre food stocks that do exist has not improved the outlook. The ICRC concurs with World Food Programme figures that estimate between 2.5 and 3 million people in Darfur will need food assistance this year.
In the south of the country, the ICRC is faced with a quite different situation.
The signing of a peace agreement between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army in January has brought some hope for stability although it is early days yet.
" There is a level of enthusiasm and optimism within the political establishment that is not yet matched within the population at large...the new dynamic has to be translated into reality, " says Harnisch.
Although the level of violence has certainly decreased in southern Sudan with an end to official hostilities between government troops and rebels, there remain some skirmishes between local groups fighting over access to scarce resources.
Looking forward, there is much to be done. The region, the poorest in Sudan, does not have the infrastructure to accommodate those who fled the fighting to become refugees in Kenya or Uganda. The task for the international community will be gigantic because everything will have to be done from scratch.
However, the roots for peace have been planted in southern Sudan, a prospect that still appears to be a distant possibility for Darfur.