Tens of thousands of the families in Sudan's Darfur region face starvation as the ongoing violence there has kept most farmers from planting crops, the International Red Cross warns.
As the conflict in Darfur drags on, food supplies in Sudan's western region are running out, according to a survey released by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Fearing attacks by government-backed Arab militias, most of Darfur's farmers - mainly black Africans - have been unable to plant crops. In most cases, the Red Cross says, Arab fighters stole their seed, tools, and livestock. Those who managed to plant their sorghum and millet are now facing a drought that is affecting much of eastern Africa.
To make matters worse, aid agencies say the region's insecurity is hampering efforts to get food and medicine to the 1.5 million people who have taken refuge in the government-run camps or in more remote areas of Darfur.
In times of drought, people usually forage for wild food, such as edible grass, ground nuts or the bland fruit from mati trees common to the semi-arid region. But after 18 months of conflict, there is not much wild food left, and foraging for it in remote areas, says Manuel Duce, a food-needs assessor for the Red Cross, is too dangerous.
Speaks by telephone from Sudan's capital, Khartoum, Mr. Duce, who just returned from Darfur, said "Now going to the bush to try to find some goods or try to find some wild foods, it is taking a high risk for the people at the moment," he said. "They are scared. So this is the main thing that now makes it more difficult for people coping."
Most of the international aid is being focused on the Sudanese camps for internally displaced people, but Mr. Duce says there is a serious food shortage in the more remote and often more volatile rural areas.
"More attention should be paid to rural areas," he said. "As I said before, most of the aid is going to IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps and still people are living in the rural areas where there is, of course, a huge need. So more aid should be concentrated to these areas, too."
The Red Cross says roughly two-thirds of Darfur's six million people face the threat of starvation.
The United Nations estimates that about 70,000 people have died since the conflict between local rebels and the government-backed Arab militias, started early last year.
The African Union is planning to send a three-thousand member peacekeeping force to Darfur, while the U.N. Security Council is considering imposing sanctions against oil-rich Sudan, which has been unable to control the violence.
At an emergency summit held Sunday in Libya, leaders of five African countries - Egypt, Chad, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan - vowed to oppose sanctions against Sudan, and rejected calls for foreign intervention in the Darfur conflict.