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UNICEF Director Speaks Of Conditions In Dafur

Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy on the conclusion of her visit to the Darfur Region

KHARTOUM, 15 June 2004 -- It is clear to me that a worsening crisis is upon us. We must do all we can to avert a humanitarian disaster. The number of displaced people – already estimated at close to 1 million men, women and children – continues to grow. As the rainy season begins, it is now a race against time to provide children and their families with basic, life-saving services: clean water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter and health care.

During my short visit to Darfur, it was clear that people are continuing to flee their villages, if not on the same large scale as in previous months. In and around Kass (in South Darfur) for instance, spaces that were empty a week ago are now filled with makeshift grass huts. More people appear to be on the move.

I was struck by the stories of women who fled their homes with their children. Many said their husbands had been killed. Others described how they had been sexually assaulted. Women and girls are fearful of leaving the camps to collect firewood and fodder, lest they be attacked again. Everybody I met is too frightened to return home.

Most disturbing was that this story was repeated over and over by the women I met with, both in South Darfur and in the huge Ardamata camp and Sissi camp in West Darfur. The images of burnt-out villages and markets on the road to Sissi from El Geneina are stark in my mind, and they are repeated hundreds of times in this vast region. Another tragic element in this situation is that just as peace is coming between North and South Sudan, the western part of the country is in conflict.

Along with the Ministry of Health and WHO, UNICEF is in the midst of a mass measles campaign intended to reach over 2 million children. UNICEF has helped to provide safe drinking water to about a third of the displaced population, but the bulk of our work in that area is ahead of us. Basic sanitation is still an issue in most of the camps and other places where displaced people have gathered. And we’re helping children get schooling, the first time for many of them and an important way to give some normalcy in their tumultuous lives.

The UN and national and international aid agencies are working very hard to respond to the crisis, but we clearly have to do more. The government of Sudan should remove all bureaucratic hurdles that may slow us down, and it has a responsibility to protect all Sudanese citizens from harm. The world community must quickly respond to our call for urgently needed funds and make good on the pledges they have made.

I congratulated President Omar Bashir today on the progress towards peace between the north and south, but stressed the need for peace throughout the entire country. The President acknowledged that many displaced persons in Darfur are not returning home due to the security situation. He said that while people are displaced, the Government would work to ensure basic services are provided to them where they are. He added that more police have been sent to the region to provide additional security. I noted that particular attention must be paid to women and children who are at risk whenever they leave their encampments.

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