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Responding to the crisis in Darfur


The ongoing conflict in Darfur in western Sudan has provoked one of the world's most pressing humanitarian emergencies. In response, the ICRC and the Sudanese Red Crescent are stepping up their level of activities there. An emergency appeal for additional funds has also been launched.

The ICRC, in partnership with the Sudanese Red Crescent, is substantially reinforcing its set-up and operations in western Sudan in response to the current crisis in the Darfur region and has, as a consequence, increased its planned budget for Sudan for 2004 from CHF 46 million to CHF 77 million.


  The main focus of ICRC activities in 2004

  • Water and sanitation material for some 500,000 people
  • Shelter, clothes and essential household material for up to 300,000 people,
  • Support to existing medical facilities (four hospitals and 12 primary health-care centres),
  • Provision of food to sustain 100,000 people for six months
  • Help restoring family links at national and regional level.

The ICRC was among the first humanitarian organisations to respond to the emergency after the outb reak of the conflict in February 2003 and has already provided assistance to hundreds of thousands of people.

After an interruption of several months when humanitarian organizations were denied satisfactory access to Dafur, the ICRC resumed its activities following the visit of its President, Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, to Khartoum at the beginning of March 2004. In May, the Sudanese government additionally announced the further lifting of restrictions to facilitate humanitarian operations allowing the ICRC and the Sudanese Red Crescent to extend operations in the region. Some areas, however, remain too dangerous in which to operate.

Since March 2004, the ICRC and Sudanese Red Crescent operations have included the construction of camps for displaced persons, delivering water and sanitation services to vulnerable people, providing medical assistance and supplies to hospitals and health centres and helping re-establish contact between separated family members. For more details see operational update

There is little time to spare in deploying further aid as Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's Head of Operations for the Horn of Africa, readily admits that the world's response to the disaster so far has been inadequate.

" Everybody has been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the crisis, " he says, " There are many factors behind this: objective obstacles to access, the difficulty of any given humanitarian player to act quickly and meaningfully in an area that is the size of Iraq and not well known and where difficulties of gaining entry, for whatever reason, have jeopardised the possibility of evaluating the situation. "

As access improves, the huge scale of the need bec omes ever more apparent. De Maio says the ICRC operation in Darfur is its biggest deployment worldwide and is expanding daily.


Absogo village, near the border between Sudan and Chad©ICRC/Boris Heger/ref. TD-E-00004 

" We have close to 50 expatriate staff at the moment and we are stepping that up to reach a target of 80 expatriates and some 500 locally recruited colleagues to operate in partnership with the Sudanese Red Crescent. This is in addition to the already major ICRC operation carried out in relation to the country's north-south conflict. "

The role of the national society has been crucial from the outset and the ICRC is supporting eleven of its branches and its headquarters. It is also providing the Sudanese Red Crescent with funds, vehicles and other materials to carry out its fieldwork, as well as logistical back-up and training. 

Looking forward, Jacques de Maio says the international community will have to remain vigilant to ensure it can adapt to changing needs.

" The conflict is also taking its toll on the local population's ability to sustain itself over the next 18 months – and I'm talking a bout more than 2 million people. Two harvests have been missed and there are close to 1 million people in displaced persons camps plus, it is estimated, more than 150,000 refugees in Chad, with large-scale damage to the region's infrastructure. "

He adds too that humanitarian activities have to be carried out within proper parameters that are recognised by all sides. 

" Assisting displaced persons should in no way be perceived as condoning or facilitating practices or policies contrary to the law that would be ultimately detrimental to their well-being, safety and dignity. There must be a professional, protection-oriented approach. "  

The focus of ICRC/Sudanese Red Crescent operations in Dafur until the end of 2004 will be on the following priorities:


A mother and child await transport to a refugee camp in Farchana, Chad©ICRC/Boris Heger/ref. TD-E-00003 
  •  protecting civilians against violations of international humanitarian law by monitoring the situation and establ ishing a confidential dialogue with all parties concerned in order to promote respect for IHL

  •  running the tracing and Red Cross Message service to enable the tens of thousands of family members separated by the conflict to locate and communicate with each other

  •  meeting the most urgent material needs of conflict victims, mainly displaced persons by providing shelter materials and essential household goods for up to 300,000 people; clean water and sanitation facilities for up to 500,000 people, and, in coordination with the World Programme, monthly food rations for some 100,000 people for six months

  •  ensuring the sick and wounded have access to adequate primary health care and medical and surgical treatment by repairing or refurbishing the infrastructure of 4 key regional hospitals (Nyala, El Fasher, Kutum and Zalingei); providing ICRC surgical/medical staff, drugs and equipment; organising training and supervision for local medical personnel, evacuating the wounded to hospital, helping damaged or remote primary health-care facilities to resume or continue their activities; positioning emergency medical stocks for distribution to conflict-affected communities

  •  protecting detainees captured in relation to the conflict by promoting a confidential dialogue with the concerned authorities concerning their obligations under international humanitarian law to treat detainees humanely and give them the necessary judicial guarantees

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