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Sudan: addressing civilians’ needs in complex circumstances

12-05-2009 Interview

In Sudan, recent developments, including the expulsion of non-governmental organizations, have had ramifications for the humanitarian situation. As in the past, the ICRC is responding to emergency needs, in coordination with other humanitarian actors. Jordi Raich Curco, head of its delegation in Sudan, explains.

  © ICRC/P. Dutilleul   
  Jebel Marra region, northern Darfur. The ICRC distributes food, seeds and farming tools to civilians.    



  © ICRC/P. Dutilleul   
  Jebel Marra region, northern Darfur. Villagers receiving food,   seeds and farming tools from the ICRC.    



  © ICRC/P. Dutilleul   
  Samra, east of Kabkabiya. The ICRC distributes seeds and farming   tools to villagers.    
  The government of Sudan expelled 13 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) following the International Criminal Court’s indictment, last March, of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. How has this affected the humanitarian situation in Sudan, especially Darfur?
  © ICRC    
  Jordi Raich Curco, head of ICRC delegation in Sudan.    

The departure of the 13 international NGOs from Darfur and other regions of Sudan has affected humanitarian agencies and their work in the country. This is particularly true of Darfur, and remote areas, where people have access to few services since only a handful of NGOs operate there.

UN agencies and their remaining partners, and the Sudanese government are now finding alternative ways of keeping their programmes going and starting new ones. The humanitarian actors still in Sudan held a series of meetings with a joint mission to Darfur – comprising government and UN representatives – to assess the situation and come up with ways of addressing needs. 

The situation is thought to be under control, with major needs – namely, for food, health care and clean water – covered until the end of May.

What effect did the departure of NGOs have on ICRC operations in Darfur?

In Darfur, the ICRC continues to focus its activities on rural and remote areas, where needs remain the most pressing. The objective of its approach is twofold: to respond to emergencies by providing assistance (food, household items, health services) to people in dire need; and to help protect the sources of livelihood of people at risk so that they do not become dependent on aid. It therefore concentrates on improving agricultural production and veterinary services, rehabilitating key water points and supporting health clinics and services for amputees.

The ICRC has been coordinating its action with other members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Sudan, especially the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS), its primary partner in the country. With the departure of NGOs , the SRCS suddenly found itself in demand, stretching its capacities in an effort to bridge the gap left.

Have you had to change your strategy in light of the latest developments?

I would not say that the strategy has changed. Our main operations continue as before in Darfur and the rest of the country. At any given time, we have 16 field teams operating from 11 permanent offices around the country. Sudan is our largest operation in the world and we are over-stretched in Darfur owing to the extent our activities.

Although responding to emergencies remains the organization’s priority, the ICRC will intervene in situations where lives are threatened and where it can make a difference. A case in point is the ongoing ICRC campaign against a meningitis outbreak in the Western Jabal Marra region of Darfur. This unplanned activity is a response to a need that has suddenly arisen in a region where the ICRC is one of the few organizations present and able to address the problem. The campaign is carried out in cooperation with Médecins Sans Frontières-Switzerland, the Ministry of Health, United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization.

The campaign aims to vaccinate 65% of the population aged between 2 and 30 in the region affected by the outbreak. So far, nearly 36,000 people (almost 80% of the target population) have been immunized.

What are the main challenges that the ICRC has faced lately in conducting its operations?

Security remains a challenge to activities we would like to carry out in parts of the country. We are concerned about deteriorating security conditions in certain areas of Darfur, and call on the different communities and parties to respect humanitarian workers. In additi on, the rainy season is around the corner. This will create logistical constraints and difficult road conditions that will restrict the ICRC's movements, especially in central and southern parts of Sudan.

One challenge we often try to address, especially with the media, is how to generate interest in the country as a whole, rather than exclusively on Darfur. While Darfur has been in the spotlight for a few years, needs and emergency situations also arise elsewhere in the country.

Over the past few months, for example, the Ugandan armed group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, has attacked the region bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, driving people from their villages. While Congolese civilians seek refuge in Sudan, Sudanese villagers flee to safer locations within their country. The ICRC and the SRCS have been very active in providing emergency aid and trying to locate members of families separated while fleeing.

Is the ICRC still present in Southern Sudan, given the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement four years ago?

The ICRC maintains a mission in Southern Sudan, where we have been working since 1986. Despite relative stability since the signing of the agreement, tensions and occasional clashes leave people destitute.

In Southern Sudan, which is in transition from war to peace and development, the ICRC focuses on addressing humanitarian needs and promoting international humanitarian law (IHL). ICRC delegates document alleged IHL violations and open confidential dialogue with the relevant parties in the north-south border region and Southern Sudan on how to prevent further breaches.

Part of the organization’s assistance to Southern Sudan goes towards resolving some of the residual effects of the longstanding war that ended with the sign ing of the agreement.

An estimated 35,000 disabled people in Southern Sudan, including many war victims, now have access to care and assistance in a new, state-of-the-art referral physical rehabilitation centre in Juba. Built and equipped by the ICRC at a cost of USD 1.8 million, the facility provides prostheses and orthoses to amputees and physically disabled people. The ICRC still has a hand in the work of the centre, and supports the training of its staff to keep services up to standard.

The facility has the capacity to treat 60 inpatients from across Southern Sudan at any given time, and will serve up to 100 patients per month when fully operational.

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