Khartoum — The Red Cross will increase its field assistance in the Darfur region in 2018, returning to an area where it was suspended from by the Sudanese government for years.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a press statement today saying that the years of conflict in Darfur have adversely affected the health and welfare of residents.
Following negotiations with Khartoum in September last year, the humanitarian aid organisation will also carry out new assistance activities in South Kordofan. Recent visits to South Kordofan and Central Darfur by the ICRC found people in need of food, safe drinking water and access to health care.
"Families living in Sudan's conflict-affected areas have been suffering much too long from the effects of prolonged violence," ICRC President Peter Maurer said during a three-day visit to Sudan that concluded Thursday. "It is notable that the Government of Sudan recognises these needs and is allowing the ICRC to carry out a broader range of activities in these critical areas."
The Red Cross has been working in Sudan since 1978 and extended its operations to Darfur in 2003. The organisation's mandate is set out in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, to which Sudan, along with 194 other States, is party. On 1 February 2014, the Sudanese authorities suspended Red Cross activities in Sudan. The ICRC and twelve other foreign organisations were expelled in what was President Omar Al Bashir's response to the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for him in 2009.
Khartoum's stance changed, when the improvement of access for humanitarian organisations in Sudan became one of the five tracks the United States assessed Sudan on, as a criterium for the possible lifting of economic sanctions.
A ICRC delegation talked in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, in September to discuss the return of the organisation to Sudan. In April 2017, Sudan also granted the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) access to previously unreachable areas such as Kurmuk (Blue Nile), Golo (Central Darfur) and Belle El Sereif (South Darfur); the latter had not been accessible for over five years.
The activities of the ICRC will gradually increase in partnership with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) and authorities. The organisation plans to open a new office in Kadugli.
"We want to address short-term needs but we know we must also help strengthen the resilience of the people in the long-term," Maurer said. "The ICRC has a long history of working in Sudan, but no history of working in South Kordofan state. We look forward to being able to assist those in need there."
Activities this year include the distribution of seeds, tools and pesticides to help displaced communities and communities hosting displaced people and refugees to grow their own food. ICRC estimated that this aid will help 108,000 people.
Food or cash will be distributed to help those families until the harvest. ICRC teams will also repair water pumps and vaccinate livestock.
Although the organisation was suspended of doing field operations in Darfur, it has continued to support orthopedic patients at the National Authority for Prosthetics and Orthotics, reconnecting families that were separated by conflict. It also acted as a neutral intermediary during releases of prisoners of war.