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ICRC Boosts Water, Agricultural Aid in Darfur

  • Lisa Schlein

Although the intensity of the fighting in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur has lessened, the International Committee of the Red Cross says the needs remain great. The ICRC says it is beefing up water and agricultural operations for hundreds of thousands of people living in remote parts of Darfur.

Darfur has been going through a period of relative calm. But, the International Committee of the Red Cross warns this could change any time and Darfur, once again, could be plunged into a bloody conflict.

ICRC spokesman, Marcel Izard, tells VOA, sporadic fighting continues and the region remains insecure. He says armed groups roam the region and criminals prey upon the civilian population.

The ICRC is the only international organization that works in the remote, rural areas. More than two million people have been made homeless by the conflict, which erupted in 2003 between the Sudanese-backed Arab militia known as the Janjaweed and African rebel groups.

Most are living in camps managed by the United Nations, where they receive aid from UN and private aid agencies. Izard says his agency tries to provide the basics.

"In Darfur, water is something very important, having access to clean, fresh drinking water, not only for the people, but also for the livestock, which is often for the farmers their only means to survive, to get an income if they have livestock," he said.

Last year, Izard says ICRC water engineers provided access to water for at least 600,000 people in remote rural areas in Darfur. He says they upgraded hand pumps, hand-dug wells, water yards and other water supply systems.

In addition, he says the organization is providing sanitation and solid-waste management to 130,000 displaced people living in Gereida camp.

The Red Cross took over the management of this camp after the private aid agency, which had been running it, left because of insecurity.

Izard says the Red Cross distributed seeds and tools to nearly 250,000 farmers last year before the onset of the rainy season.

"We have also been monitoring the harvest and besides the success of this program, we have still seen that some varieties of seeds have been imported from outside the country, have not adapted well to conditions in Darfur. What we are now doing as the next step to improve that is together with the Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture, we will see if we can find better seeds and we will also give technical assistance to the farmers," he said.

The ICRC also provides lifesaving shots for children in Darfur. It has been vaccinating children against major killer diseases, such as measles. The Swiss humanitarian organization supports 11 clinics, which, last year, administered more than 200,000 doses of vaccines in different places around the region.

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