Widespread Attacks and Water Shortage Call for Attention, Assistance Along Sudan Border

Catholic Relief Services
Friday, 12 March 2004

Violent militia raids, destruction of villages, water scarcity, and harsh weather conditions threaten the security and survival of between 100,000 to 120,000 Sudanese refugees who have fled into Chad to escape the increased ethnic fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan, according to field reports from the Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

"The situation is urgent as several factors, environmental and security-wise, are working against us," said Matthew Breman, Deputy Team Leader of the CRS Emergency Response Team in Chad. "Attacks on whole villages are rampant and violent, generating fear and trauma among the moving population. Additionally, finding abundant water supply is one of our toughest challenges, and has become a growing source of tension among some host communities."

Issues of protection are of primary concern for CRS and other humanitarian agencies as the dangers have become widespread, involving raids by militia, rape, fighting between Chadian and Sudanese forces along the border, and sniper fire aimed at people collecting water. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the conflict in Darfur has resulted in several thousand deaths and the displacement of more than a half million people since March 2003.

Working with its local partner, Secours Catholique et Developpement (SECADEV), the relief arm of the Catholic Archdiocese of N'Djamena, CRS is managing three refugee camps roughly 20 - 30 km inside the Chadian border: Farachana, with roughly 2,100 refugees; Kounoungo, with roughly 1,900 refugees; and Touloum, with roughly 5,000 refugees. So far, CRS has not heard reports of violence or threats within these camps.

Most of the refugees remain in camps along a 600 km stretch of the Chad/Sudan desert border, where severe, sandy winds during the day precede temperatures that fall by 25 degrees Celsius at night, making for uncomfortable and for some, unbearable cold conditions. In the north, several deaths have been attributed to cold weather.

UNHCR and its partners are in the process of resettling the refugees in camps and transit camps in Chad, at least 50 km from the border. The process has been slow as suitable locations for refugee camps remain difficult to find with sufficient water and grazing pasture to support the large numbers of livestock cattle, mules, goats, sheep, horses, and camels the refugees have brought with them.

In the refugee camps, CRS oversees the warehousing and distribution of food and non-food items; transport, testing, and distribution of water; public sanitation and hygiene; social, community, and educational services; and agriculture and animal husbandry activities.

CRS Recommendations

  • The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process must continue to make progress towards resolving the larger Sudanese conflict;
  • The international community must call for an immediate end to attacks on civilians in Sudan by the Government of Sudan military and allied militias;
  • The Government of Sudan must provide humanitarian access to vulnerable populations in Darfur and protection of humanitarian workers and supplies;
  • The international community must push for an internationally observed negotiated settlement to the conflict in Darfur and its underlying causes.

CRS staff are available in the field for providing detailed analysis on the situation, and can be reached by contacting Caroline Brennan at E-mail: cbrennan@catholicrelief.org or at Tel: 410-951-7408.

Background on the Darfur Conflict

For years in Darfur, a region roughly one-fifth the size of Sudan, low-intensity conflict has taken place between Arab nomadic tribes and pastoralist tribes such as the Fur, Massalit, and Zagharwa. The tensions escalated in February of 2003 when some of the regional tribes formed a rebel movement, the Sudan Liberation movement (SLM). On 6th September 2003, the Khartoum government and the SLM agreed upon a 45-day ceasefire, which was later extended until 4 December 2003. However, peace talks brokered by the Chadian government collapsed at the beginning of December and attempts in early 2004 to restart the process have had little success.

Since mid-November 2003, the crisis has been complicated by the involvement of a second rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which has engaged in heavy fighting with Government of Sudan and militia forces in Darfur. The JEM were never part of the ceasefire and have not been part of the negotiations.

The two-decade-long conflict in greater Sudan has impaired social and economic development, destroyed practically all of the infrastructure and telecommunication networks and left the roads in such a state of disrepair that they are virtually impassable.

CRS in Chad/Sudan

For several years, CRS has worked in Chad and recently opened an office in its capital of N'Djamena in late 2002. CRS has supported relief and development programs in Sudan since the end of the first major civil war in 1972, when the agency helped to resettle internally displaced Sudanese.

For more information, or to contact Catholic Relief Services, see their website at: www.catholicrelief.org

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