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UN: More Aid Needed for Sudan Refugees - 2004-06-16

The director of the United Nations Children Fund, is warning the desperate situation for tens of of thousands of refugees in Sudan's western Darfur region will get worse without increased international aid. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy spent two days in the region that the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Ms. Bellamy says the government of Sudan and the international community need to act quickly to send food and supplies to Darfur before the upcoming rainy season further hampers relief efforts. She says facilities such as latrines, which help stop the spread of disease, must also be built as quickly as possible.

Even if those short-term goals are met, Ms. Bellamy warns, there is no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis in the region.

"The fact is with the rains coming in a couple weeks most of the people who are generally farmers, who work their lands, will have lost their planting season," she said. "If they lose their planting season it means they will probably be in the camps, or camped out in these areas over the next year. So nobody should think that this is something that is going to start and stop in only a couple of weeks."

The United Nations estimates that two million people in Darfur need humanitarian assistance after being driven out of their homes by 15 months of fighting. Arab janjaweed militias have been attacking the black African population in the region, prompting fears the militias are engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living in the open or in squalid conditions in refugee camps in Darfur, while UNICEF estimates 120,000 have fled over the border into Chad.

Ms. Bellamy says despite the evident resilience of many of the refugees, she met none who wanted to return home.

"I did not find traumatized people," she said. "I actually found very entrepreneurial people who even in these terrible conditions were already trying to make a slightly better life for themselves. But in my discussions, particularly with the women, they told of really shocking situations of sexual violence and abuse, of fear, of the burning of their villages."

The U.N. Security Council last week unanimously approved a resolution calling for an end to the fighting in Darfur. Senior U.N. officials have also accused the Sudanese government of blocking relief workers and aid supplies from reaching in the troubled region, although they say the situation has improved somewhat in recent weeks.

Working with the World Health Organization, UNICEF has begun to vaccinate children in Darfur against measles, a fatal disease often spread in humanitarian crises.