©ICRC / P. Abensur / ref.sd-n-00220-19
The situation in Darfur remains one of the most urgent humanitarian situations in the world, with a total of up to one million internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in neighbouring Chad.
Since the ICRC's involvement in the crisis in March 2003 it has supplied 300,000 IDPs with non-food items, delivered clean water to up to 150,000 people and is currently supporting two hospitals in Zalingei and Kutum, having handed responsibility for another two over to other humanitarian actors. It has systematically detected and documented violations of international humanitarian law, reported them, called for concrete action and monitored follow-up action by responsible authorities at all levels.
It is also in the process of setting up an extensive tracing network to re-establish ties between family members separated by the conflict with children being given priority.
Access to Darfur is now at an unprecedented level, says Stillhart, and probably better than that which existed in southern Sudan at any time during the height of the conflict there. But the ease in government restrictions to access only came in March this year and, Stillh art says, this means the humanitarian actors are six to nine months behind the curve.
Reaching more of those in need
It has also become clear that the humanitarian operation can no longer be focused solely on the refugees and the internally displaced. Delegates from the ICRC and the Sudanese Red Crescent have, in the past two months, been surveying rural areas and what they have found requires an immediate response, especially since most of these populations have not yet benefited from any sort of assistance.
It is now estimated that up to one million people who remained in their homes in rural Darfur also find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position.
" For us the first phase of assistance is over, " says Stillhart, " We are now going increasingly into rural areas to provide protection and assistance services and we are going to increase our food assistance. We started food distribution about a month ago and the idea is to increase rations to 350,000 to 400,000 a month to people who have remained in their villages. "
©ICRC / T. Gassmann
Darfur conflict obscures peace process in South
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Darfur and the conflic t that provoked it has largely eclipsed the picture in Southern Sudan, where hopes remain for an end to the 20-year conflict between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement.
" We are today in a very strange situation where Sudan is, at the same time, at war and at peace, says Stillhart.
" We are on the verge of an historic peace deal between the Sudanese Government and the SPLA, " he continues, " while Darfur, where armed clashes persist, suffers from massive humanitarian damage and widespread insecurity. "
Stillhart also says the Darfur conflict clearly shows that the problems in Sudanese society stem not so much from a north/south divide but from tensions between the centre and the periphery.
Dangers of simplification
At the press briefing, Stillhart also spoke about the dangers of painting the parties to the conflict as " good " and " bad " .
The traditional struggle over scarce resources, aggravated by the process of desertification, has indeed pitted mainly Arab nomadic tribes against African farming communities. However, the violence of the government counter-insurgency against the rebels has left victims on both sides, he says.
" Massive violations of international humanitarian law have taken place and this has further exacerbated the suffering of people from all the different tribes. This is important because there is an incredible simplification of the conflict that all the victims are African and all the perpetrators are Arab and that is simply not true. "
ICRC and Sudanese Red Crescent remain vigilant
To help the victims on both sides of the conflict, the ICRC will continue to work in close cooperation with the Sudanese Red Crescent. It will be an operation that has to remain flexible as the full extent of the humanitarian catastrophe becomes apparent.
" There are 40-60 humanitarian organisations active in Darfur, " says Stillhart, " and we still do not know what the situation is exactly. "
" It will take more time to understand what is really going on and what the people need and, as I said, the fact the whole endeavour started six to nine months too late is not helping. "
The ICRC has built a dialogue with all the parties to the conflict thanks to its strictly independent, impartial and neutral stance and can cross lines and deploy operations throughout Darfur.