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Sudan: seed multiplication and war surgery

28-05-2009 Operational Update

In Darfur, the ICRC is distributing local seed varieties to stave off dependence on aid. In the south of the country, the ICRC's field surgical team recently flew to Nasir, in Upper Nile state, to perform urgent surgery on weapon-wounded patients.

 Multiplying seed locally in Darfur  

After distributing seed and farming tools in Darfur in 2008, the ICRC undertook an evaluation of the harvest. One of the findings was that some of the seeds distributed were not well adapted to local conditions. In an attempt to improve productivity and maximize efficiency, the ICRC decided to adopt a new approach by multiplying the seed locally.

" Agricultural research centres in Darfur used to multiply seed locally, " said Peter Schamberger, the ICRC's economic security coordinator in Sudan. " Unfortunately, their activities were interrupted during the conflict. "

For a few years now, the ICRC has supported rural farming and nomadic communities in Darfur in their efforts to maintain traditional means of livelihood. The objective to prevent dependence on aid and thereby to preserve people's dignity.

The ICRC is supporting research centres supplying foundation seed and providing them with technical assistance and supervision. The centres are going to train farmers and monitor project implementation. The ICRC will buy an agreed quantity of the 2009 harvest – certified by the National Seeds Authority – for redistribution in various regions of Darfur to the people who need it most.

" We have already signed agreements with three local research centres in Zalingi, Nyala and Alfashir, " said Mr Schamberger. " The plan is to enable the centres to revive the production of locally adapted and certified seed varieties and make them available on the local markets. The farming fami lies involved will receive a premium price for the contractually agreed production quantity. This incentive may encourage them to produce a surplus for sale on their own account. "

In 2008, nearly 260,000 people benefited from an extensive seed and tool distribution to farmers immediately before the onset of the rainy season.

A similar distribution campaign is currently under way in various parts of Darfur. The new campaign will provide at least 340,000 people with seed and basic agricultural tools. Lessons learnt from the past are being taken into consideration – for example, the seed package for 2009 does not include seed that proved unsuited to local conditions in the past. Farmers will also receive a one-month food ration for their own consumption, which will allow them to focus on their work instead of looking for ways of feeding their families during the planting season.

The distribution campaign is expected to be completed by the end of June.

 Coordinated humanitarian effort saves lives  

When Dr Antonio Venturieri Neto, the head surgeon of the ICRC's field surgical team in Sudan (besides Dr Neto, the team consists of an anaesthetist and two nurses) described what he saw in Nasir town, his voice sounded pained: most of the 65 people his team had treated were women and children, some as young as six months old.

More than 74 people had been killed and scores more injured a few days earlier when cattle rustlers attacked Torkej village, in Nasir county, Upper Nile state. In their haste to flee the village, residents had left some of their children behind. When women returned for the children, they were attacked again.

All of the victims were admitted to the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Nasir, where two surgeons did what they could in a situation that went beyond the hospital's capacity to cope.

To get to Nasir, the ICRC field surgical team first had to fly for three hours aboard an ICRC aircraft from Nyala, where they and their equipment are usually based, to Rumbeck, in Lakes state. There, a World Food Programme aircraft was waiting to take them to Nasir – another two hours of air travel – where they landed on an improvised airstrip.

The ICRC and Médecins Sans Frontières teams worked together to save life and limb. Tremendous efforts were required owing to the large number of victims and the severity of some of the wounds. Some patients had to undergo surgery more than once.

The patients had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the head, chest and abdomen, fractures, and moderate-to-severe tissue damage to limbs. One of the victims died in hospital of severe head injuries.

" All wounds inflicted by weapons are serious, " explained Dr Neto. " Failure to treat them properly can result in permanent damage and deformities. "

Fortunately, many of the victims are still alive thanks to a well-coordinated humanitarian effort between the ICRC and Médecins Sans Frontières.

For further information, please contact:
  Tamara Al Rifai, ICRC Khartoum, tel: +249 91 217 05 76 or +249 1 83 476 464
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17
  see also the interview with the Head of the ICRC Sudan delegation

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