A group of British-based relief organizations has launched an urgent public appeal for funds to help some 4.5 million Africans affected by the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region and surrounding countries. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, which represents major U.K.-based aid agencies, says urgent help is needed to relieve the plight of people in Darfur and in neighboring Chad and Central African Republic.
The group says money is needed now to get aid in ahead of the rainy season, which will make transport even more difficult and create conditions for increased health risks, including malaria, for an already vulnerable population.
Oxfam is among the agencies launching this appeal. The group's director for Sudan, Caroline Nursey says assistance now is crucial.
"It is a massive effort to get food to these people, to get them clean water, to make sure that there are medicines, particularly with the rainy season coming, we need to have mosquito nets, we need to have all the drugs and things ready for them," she said.
About 200,000 people have died since the conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against the central government, accusing Khartoum of ignoring the impoverished west of the country.
The government denies allegations that it has supported Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, who stand accused of mass killings, rape, and looting in black-African villages in Darfur.
Aid officials say that 4.5 million people have been affected by the conflict. Two-and-one-half million have fled their homes and hundreds of thousands live in camps. And the violence has spread to neighboring Chad and to the Central African Republic.
Caroline Nursey says the security situation in the region has become increasingly precarious, making aid deliveries even more difficult.
"It is extremely tough to operate," she said. "It is an environment where, if the needs were not so great, we would say we just cannot do it. But in fact, what we have had to do is to adapt our ways of working and we have got to continue to do that to meet the needs of this, across the region, four-and-one-half-million people."
Darfur is an extremely dangerous area for aid agencies. Nursey says all aid groups or convoys have at some point been attacked. Dozens of aid workers have been killed and injured in the past three years.
The United States has said genocide is being committed in Darfur. Khartoum denies this and says the West is exaggerating the situation.
In its just released human rights report for 2006, Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Kahn calls the situation in Darfur a bleeding wound on the world's conscience. Amnesty says the international community has not done enough to end the conflict.