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Words into actions

Wednesday 7 July, 2004

Words into actions – This week is the true test of the
international community’s commitment to Darfur crisis

This week is the true test of world leaders' commitment to solving the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, as the United Nations Security Council hears first hand accounts of Kofi Annan's visit to the region.

"While briefings are being prepared and speeches made, the humanitarian situation in western Sudan and Chad continues to deteriorate,” said Caroline Nursey, Oxfam's Regional Director.

“People are still arriving in the camps. They are coming more quickly than aid agencies can deal with."

"Now that the Secretary General has seen for himself the humanitarian crisis engulfing 1.2 million* people in Darfur, the time has come to put words into action," she said.

Oxfam said many people are running out of food, drinking water is scarce, and their makeshift shelters are collapsing. In some places as many as a thousand people have been sharing a single crude latrine for the past seven months: they must not wait any longer for assistance.

The seasonal rains that would normally irrigate crops and bring relief from the summer heat now pose a serious threat to hundreds of thousands of people. Uncontrolled flooding in the camps, combined with poor sanitation and the lack of clean drinking water, will drastically increase the incidence of water-borne diseases.

Large pools of stagnant water can be seen in the Kalma camp near Nyala, South Darfur. "This is a public health disaster waiting to happen," said one Oxfam staff member working there.

In the Abu Shouk camp in North Darfur recently visited by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and which is seen as one of the better-served camps, Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies are scrambling to contain a severe outbreak of diarrhoea among nearly 2,000 people in the past few days.

For people already suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, diarrhoea can kill, especially when they are children.

Even in areas where open fighting has ceased, people live in fear and uncertainty. Civilians continue to be targeted by armed groups and experience robbery, rape and murder. In towns in North Darfur women must walk a long way beyond the town to the edge of the forest to collect essential firewood for cooking. In this unprotected area they are regularly subjected to extreme forms of harassment and violence including beating, whipping, abduction and gang rape.

"Promises made by the Government of Sudan and the United Nations must translate immediately into changes on the ground for the people of Darfur. The humanitarian situation is dire; the people of Darfur cannot wait any longer for progress," said Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director, Barry Coates.

“The New Zealand government has joined with Canada and Australia to make a strong statement on Sudan. The next step is to ensure that concern is translated into action.

“The government has also provided some funding for humanitarian work but far more is needed. Oxfam is calling on the international community, including New Zealand, to more than double its aid funding.”

Oxfam NZ launched an appeal for Darfur on 25th May on 0800 600 700 and online at www.oxfam.org.nz. Public donations now total more than NZ$125,000. ENDS * Source UN Agencies

Editor’s notes Oxfam is scaling up its work in Darfur and Chad. It is providing clean drinking water, toilets and bathing facilities as well as hygiene kits in North and South Darfur and refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. Oxfam is now providing water and sanitation to nearly 200,000 people and has plans in place to provide basic services to 400,000 – 500,000 people within the next few months.

The New Zealand government has provided $3million in aid to UN agencies and NGOs. Internationally, funding figures produced by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan (27 June, 2004) call on more aid from donor governments. Only 31% of the funding requirements have been met for programmes in Darfur and only 39% of the funding requirements for Chad have been met.

ENDS

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