Don't forget Darfur, says CWS

Is Darfur in danger of becoming a forgotten emergency? That is the fear some humanitarian workers have as the crisis-ridden region in western Sudan marks nearly seven years of conflict and humanitarian and political problems.

By Chris Herlinger/CWS

Is Darfur in danger of becoming a forgotten emergency?  That is the fear some humanitarian workers have as the crisis-ridden region in western Sudan marks nearly seven years of conflict and humanitarian and political problems.

"Darfur is slipping from our minds,” said Nyika Musiyazwiriyo, the outgoing head of programs for CWS-supported efforts in Darfur.

“Funding for humanitarian work in the region has decreased substantially since the conflict first came to international attention. And Darfur is no longer a staple segment of our daily news shows," Musiyazwiriyo said recently about CWS-supported efforts in a joint program by the ACT Alliance and Caritas International.

While world attention may be slipping away, the problems within the Texas-sized region remain, ACT reported recently.

“Many of the people in the areas where the program works are very reliant on international aid and while fighting appears to have subsided, it is too early to say whether this represents a temporary lull or a more permanent reduction in the conflict," a staff member working with the ACT/Caritas program said recently.
"For the displaced of Darfur who ponder the question of return, this represents a dilemma as they ask whether it is safe enough for them to return home and whether their security can be guaranteed. At this stage there are no clear answers, but we do know that, in the meantime, they still need our support."

“The needs of the people are just the same”, said Musiyazwiriyo, a humanitarian worker from Zimbabwe. “Many thousands of people in Darfur still need support each day to access basic and vital things like clean water, food, and health care.” That remains the underlying principle for CWS-supported efforts in Darfur, work that began in 2004 and remains one of the largest humanitarian programs in South and West Darfur, with approximately 350,000 beneficiaries.

Some 2.7 million people from Darfur remain displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations, and  more than 4 million people remain directly affected by the conflict, both in Darfur and neighboring Chad.  Many of these people have been living in temporary camps for up to six years, and are largely reliant on international aid programs in order to survive.

The cornerstone of CWS-supported work in Darfur remains delivering life-saving services to the displaced and to the communities hosting them, as well as support for Sudan-based national partners.

In 2009, CWS-supported efforts provided assistance to people in
South and West Darfur. Among the sizable accomplishments this past year--and continuing into 2010--are operating and maintaining 38 water system sites for the displaced, which serve some 167,805 persons, and providing health services to more than 170,000 persons living in camps and rural communities.

Efforts in 2010 will focus in particular on those living in cities in South Darfur and West Darfur. Continuing beneficiaries of CWS-supported water and sanitation programs are the best gauge of the numbers of those assisted: 344,449 people, of whom 237,261 are displaced and 107,188 are residents of rural/host communities. Among the continued program work: nutrition and feeding centers for the displaced; water and sanitation projects; psychosocial, peace-building and protection efforts; and community empowerment projects.

CWS-supported work includes seven feeding clinics and four nutrition centers; ongoing construction of educational facilities; and training and material support to schools for those displaced and for communities hosting them.

Why is this assistance still needed after six years? “Thousands of people are still living in camps,” Musiyazwiriyo said. “Peace and security remain elusive - people do not yet feel secure enough to leave the camps and return home. And such living conditions mean people do not have the opportunity to build their own lives. They still need humanitarian aid to survive."

But the need to survive does not mean survivors are without dignity or hope. Antony Mahony, a humanitarian worker who has worked with the ACT/Caritas program, reported recently meeting Fatima Abakir, a proud headmistress of the Girls’ Basic School at Dereig, near the Darfur city of Nyala.

Abakir's school serves girls from families living in the camp at Dereig, but it also serves the community of Nyala; as a result, it brings together the displaced and local communities.  Twenty students have graduated and have furthered their education; the girls are taught Arabic, Islamic religious knowledge, geography and English.

"The girls pay 3 Sudanese pounds per term in fees towards running costs and for the transport for the teachers from the town a couple of miles away," Mahony wrote. "Not all the students can manage this, but Fatima does not turn them away."

Just as humanitarian agencies like CWS cannot turn away from the people in Darfur.

ACT Alliance  Church World Service is a member of the ACT Alliance, an international coalition of churches and related organizations responding to emergencies, collaborating in development work, and providing a shared voice for advocacy.


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