14 February 2013

Sudan: Restrictions Hampering Life-Saving Response in North Darfur

press release

Fears new fighting may be on the horizon after tens of thousands of people displaced in Jebel Amir gold producing area

Tens of thousands of people who have fled fighting in the largest displacement in Darfur in recent years face a severe shortage of clean water and sanitation services, Oxfam warned today. The agency called for increased access for humanitarian aid agencies in the El Sireaf, Garra Zawia and Kebkabiya areas of North Darfur following January fighting around Jebel Amir.

"Tensions in the El Sireaf area are still high and have the potential to spread more widely. We are worried that there will be more displacement and we are already struggling to meet the needs of those who have already been forced to flee their homes," El Fateh Osman, Oxfam's Sudan Country Director said. "We need key roads to be opened and for the authorities to allow for a full assessment of what the humanitarian needs are."

At least 90,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by intertribal fighting in the Jebel Amir area of North Darfur's El Sireaf locality, famous for its gold production. The UN has said that the displacement from Jebel Amir area in the past weeks has been more than the number displaced through all of 2012.

"People are really in a panic and very fearful of more violence. Those who have been able to flee are not sure when they will be able to return to their home areas, many of which have been destroyed in the fighting," Oxfam's Humanitarian Coordinator for North Darfur Hamouda Kanu said. "They have inadequate shelter for this colder time of year and are forced to defecate in the open. This could lead to the spread of disease."

Oxfam and its partner the Kebkabiya Smallholders Charitable Society (KSCS) have been able to provide clean water through trucking and additional latrines for a large proportion of the estimated 1,800 households (between 7,200 and 10,800 people) that fled to Kebkabiya town. KSCS have also been able to distribute blankets and plastic sheeting to around 1,500 households in Gahra El Zawiya but shortages have meant some 300 households there have not received any assistance.

An estimated 40 to 60,000 people have been displaced from surrounding villages to El Seraif town. Oxfam and KSCS are attempting to send materials to construct 200 latrines in El Sireaf together with two technical experts but called on government authorities to improve access for humanitarian groups that so far has been limited. Oxfam and KSCS also called for local authorities and tribal leaders to meet and together diffuse tensions in the area.

Oxfam said the road linking Kebkabiya to El Sireaf town must be immediately opened to allow for bulky aid supplies to be transported to the area in order to help prevent the humanitarian situation there from worsening.

Oxfam also warned that the areas affected by the new surge in fighting may also experience food shortages. Farmers were preparing for a good harvest this year but many crops in the area were burned in the conflict. Last year's poor harvests in North Darfur have left people especially vulnerable.

"The world has moved on from this entrenched conflict and humanitarian work is already severely under-funded. We are struggling to meet already existing needs even as more are pushed into crisis," Osman said. "This conflict in Darfur is now 10 years old and we need to see a renewed effort to bring about stability and peace in this devastated area."

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