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ICRC Stepping Up Aid in Darfur Before Rainy Season

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it is stepping up its humanitarian operations in Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur. The ICRC says it must get aid to tens of thousands of people in rural communities before expected heavy rains later this month. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The rains in Sudan have already started. But, the peak of the rainy season does not occur until the end of the month. It goes on until September. Red Cross spokeswoman, Anna Schaaf, says it is critical to get aid to people in the rural areas now.

Once the heavy rains begin, she says, the roads will become flooded. Trucks will get stuck in the mud and planes will not be able to land. She says many places will become unreachable.

Security is another problem. Schaaf tells VOA Red Cross delegates talk to all parties involved in the conflict to get guarantees aid workers can travel safely to different areas of Darfur.

"The problem is, as you know, the situation in Darfur is such that the different armed groups are splitting up more and more, which means that there are more armed groups now than there were maybe last year," she added. "Smaller groups, but more of them. So, it is more and more difficult to keep up a regular contact with all these different groups who are controlling different areas in Darfur. And for us, this makes it very difficult to be able to get security guarantees."

The Red Cross says it is stepping up assistance to displaced people from Tawila. This area in North Darfur has been the scene of repeated clashes between rebels and government-backed forces. The Red Cross says about 40,000 people who fled the city of Tawila are living in difficult conditions in three camps.

Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Schaaf says most aid groups that had been helping these people have left the area because of the insecurity. She says the Sudanese Red Crescent is still distributing food provided by the U.N. World Food Program.

But, she says these people lack basic medical care and sanitation. She says the Red Cross now will take care of these needs.

In addition, she says the Red Cross has just completed delivery of around 830 tons of aid to rural villages in north, south and west Darfur. Besides food, she says it is critical that people are supplied with safe drinking water.

"With the rainy season, dirty water can lead to diseases, especially in the camps when they are crowded and there are lots of people there," she explained. "So, we try to keep up the clean water supply, drinking water. It is also important in the rural areas to be able to distribute seeds and tools, because people have to plant just right now before the rainy season so that they can harvest at the end of the rainy season in September-October and be independent again and assure their livelihood."

The International Committee of the Red Cross also assists more than 100,000 displaced people in the Gereida camp in the south of the region.

The United Nations estimates about 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since war erupted in 2003 between the Sudanese-backed Janjaweed Arab militia and African rebel groups. More than 2 million people have been made homeless.