Fighting and insecurity remain a problem in parts of the Darfur region, while the rainy season is interfering with humanitarian relief operations.
Nicki Bennett is a spokesperson for the aid group OXFAM. From the town of Gereida in South Darfur, she spoke by satellite phone to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in the region.
Ms. Bennett says, “The security situation in Darfur hasn’t changed much over the last few months. It’s certainly gotten better than it was this time last year, but it’s simply not good enough at the moment. There are two million people still living in camps in Darfur. And in South Darfur, where I am right now, this camp has about 50,000 people. The humanitarian situation has improved a little bit in the sense that the NGOs are here. The aid agencies are getting supplies to people. But there’s still no sign that the people will be going home anytime soon because security is still a problem.” OXFAM has received reports that since August, in West Darfur, there have been 11 attacks or robberies involving aid agency employees, alone.
Asked about the presence of African Union forces, she says, “In Gereida, there’ve been African Union forces since February, which is a great thing. The African Union forces have improved security in areas where they have been deployed to. The problem is there’s not enough of them. Right now, there’s 4,700 of them on the ground. But deployment has been interrupted at the moment because of the rainy season, so we won’t be seeing any new ones for the next three weeks or so. And even once we get up to 7,000 you have to remember…the region is the size of France.”
While the AU troops have improved security in camps and towns, outside of those areas is still very dangerous. The rainy season has caused problems. The OXFAM spokesperson says, “It rains most days, sometimes you get a lull for two or three days. But when it rains, it rains very hard and what that means is the shelters get flooded, supplies wash away, people are losing their jerry cans, their blankets, their mats. Sometimes the houses, if they’ve been built with mud walls, can collapse. So the aid agencies are really working very hard to make sure people have decent shelters. And also to prevent water borne diseases…human waste, animal waste being flooded inside the camps.”
Pools of water also allow mosquitoes to breed, raising the risk of malaria. Despite those conditions, OXFAM says it is planning to expand its operations. It currently aids 670,000 people in the three Darfur states.