Children and women bear the brunt of savage fighting in western Sudan
NEW YORK/GENEVA/KHARTOUM, 20 February 2004 - UNICEF said today that attacks on civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan are threatening the lives of the hundreds of thousands of children who have fled their homes.
Speaking from New York, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy called on the government of Sudan to “enforce the rule of law, and take aggressive steps to protect civilians.” She also called on the warring parties to agree to an immediate cease-fire, and ensure safe access for humanitarian agencies and supplies for all those displaced by the fighting.
Attacks on villages in recent days by horse and camel-mounted Arab militias and organized bands of outlaws have sent renewed waves of thousands of people, mostly women and children, trekking in harsh conditions to seek refuge in the towns of Darfur.
An estimated 100,000 displaced have already reached Kutum in North Darfur, with more arriving each day. Aid agencies estimate that as many as 750,000 civilians may have already been displaced by months of fighting.
On Monday Sudanese President El Bashir authorised the opening of corridors for humanitarian aid to some areas to which civilians have escaped, after weeks during which humanitarian workers had virtually no access.
Just back from a visit to the towns of Kutum and El Geneina, JoAnna Van Gerpen, UNICEF’s Representative in Sudan, described the condition of displaced civilians as “shocking.”
“One mother had arrived in Kutum three days earlier with her nine children from a village just three kms away” said Van Gerpen. “They were camped with thousands of others in dry riverbeds littered with animal faeces. Her only possessions were the clothes on her back and a jerry can for water provided by humanitarian workers.”
“Tens of thousands are living in the open or in flimsy roofless shelters made of grass, too terrified to leave the town.”
According to Van Gerpen the displaced are in a fragile condition, with the combined threat of insufficient food, poor sanitation, scarce water and crowded conditions providing a fertile breeding ground for disease.
UNICEF and its partners are trucking water to camps and constructing wells, but the numbers of people who continue to escape the systematic burning of villages is threatening to overwhelm resources. Health services are hampered by the absence of health workers who have fled to safer areas.
“And these are the lucky ones, the ones we can reach,” said Van Gerpen. “Hundreds of thousands of other people forced from their homes are in areas that cannot be reached by humanitarian workers due to insecurity or government restrictions.”
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