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ICRC Mounts Huge Aid Operation in Darfur - 2004-06-28

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is mounting a huge humanitarian relief operation for hundreds of thousands of people in Sudan's western Darfur region.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says Sudan has surpassed Iraq as its single biggest and most expensive world project. And of the $63 million budgeted for Sudan, two-thirds will be spent on humanitarian activities in Darfur.

The agency now has more than 50 foreign workers and 150 Sudanese staff working on the operation, and the numbers will more than double.

ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal said one of the agency's most important activities is that of protection. He explains Red Cross delegates monitor how civilians are treated and intervene whenever they find that people are being abused. Another important part of its protection activities, he said, is registering people who have been made homeless by the war. "In Darfur, thousands, tens of thousands of displaced families, this is really the first step in making sure that they can receive the assistance they need, that we can find out, for example, if they have been separated from their family members, especially for unaccompanied young children. So, registration is important to make sure that the aid we provide really goes to the people who should have it," he said.

The United Nations estimates more than one million people have been displaced and currently are living in camps in Darfur. And an estimated 160,000 Sudanese have taken refuge in neighboring Chad.

The Red Cross says, like other aid agencies, it had great difficulty gaining access to Darfur and the victims for many months. The situation began improving in March, when ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger negotiated an agreement with the Sudanese authorities.

The Director of Red Cross Operations, Pierre Krahenbuhl, said aid workers have helped to establish camps for displaced people in urban areas in Darfur. "We are aiming for roughly 300,000 people that we want to assist in terms of shelter and non-food assistance in these camps," he said. "We are aiming for 500,000 people that we want to support and are already in large part supporting in terms of the water support programs. And, we are doing complementary food assistance to the efforts underway by WFP [World Food Program]."

In addition, Mr. Krahenbuhl says the Red Cross is rehabilitating four of Darfur's key hospitals and re-establishing dozens of health centers in rural areas.