Current Crisis Future Catastrophe in Darfur (Sudan) unless immediate action is taken

The threat of famine is looming in the Darfur region of western Sudan, according to a nutrition survey recently conducted by MSF.

The threat of famine is looming in the Darfur region of western Sudan, according to a nutrition survey recently conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The study shows dangerously high levels of malnutrition and mortality with a rapidly deteriorating food security situation. There are already high levels of excess death and malnutrition and the whole population is teetering on the verge of mass starvation.

A nutritional study conducted in Wadi Saleh and Mukjar Provinces revealed that 21.5% of children under five years of age in the area were already suffering from acute malnutrition. Worse still, the study found that approximately 5% of the children under five in the families surveyed had died in the last 3 months. These levels of mortality are well in excess of death rates defined as an emergency. Most of the children died from simple causes such as hunger, diarrhea and malaria. But there was also massive excess mortality in those over 5 with 60% of all deaths reported due to war trauma and further excess death from malaria and diarrhea. These results show an extreme level of needs in Darfur caused by violence, hunger and vulnerability to simple diseases.

"Many people have been forced to flee their homes in search of food and safety", explains emergency coordinator Ton Koene. "They are not safe in their home villages and so they have come here to relief centers where they are finding only more death and suffering."

Since February 2003, there has been an escalating conflict in Darfur between the SLA and JEM rebel groups and the government of Sudan. At the same time widespread and brutal attacks on civilians have created a humanitarian crisis. Today, there are an estimated one million people displaced by the attacks, most of whom are destitute and in constant fear, with little medical care and insufficient food, water and shelter.

The nutritional study clearly shows a current crisis, but also indicates that the situation is set to further deteriorate unless there is urgent action. Water systems, crops and livestock were looted or destroyed during attacks on villages. The people have not been able to plant yet and no harvest is expected this year. The survey further shows that the whole population faces food shortage and the threat of starvation in the very near future unless substantial food distributions can be organized. As the entire population is further weakened by hunger, they will only become more vulnerable to disease. The threats of malaria and diarrheal diseases will only further increase with the onset of rains. The death and suffering is set to escalate to catastrophic proportions.

In spite of GOS promises to expedite the provision of assistance, bureaucratic barriers placed in front of aid agencies significantly inhibit immediate action. In addition, the GOS has not taken action to stop violence against civilians. The aid community and the United Nations has so far failed to be present and provide adequate levels of desperately needed food, water and shelter.

The result is that there is inadequate aid reaching people who are already facing a desperate situation. The continued attacks on the displaced and their inability to plant before the next rainy season leaves people completely dependent on assistance, assistance which has been slow to arrive.

"The international community has known the extent of the crisis in Darfur for many months," said Ton Koene. "But people are still facing attacks. People are still terrified. Although some food has been distributed, much more is needed in the coming weeks if not, more children and their parents will die"

Despite the cease-fire, targeted violence against civilians still goes on and the people are living in a climate of intense fear. Wounded people do not seek health care's fearing to be identified and detained. The Government of Sudan must ensure safety for civilians and respect peoples' freedom of movement to seek safety and assistance. The current humanitarian aid effort is woefully insufficient serving irregularly only a fraction of victims of this crisis. The arrival of the rains in late May will hamper or paralyze aid distribution in many areas of Darfur. The GOS and the aid community must collaborate to launch a massive relief operation now!

MSF provides basic health care in 11 locations throughout Darfur. MSF is currently treating more than 900 children in therapeutic feeding centers, and an additional 3000 in supplementary feeding programs. MSF has already begun targeted food distribution of high energy foods to children under 5 and is providing water and sanitation services for the displaced. MSF has been treating high numbers of measles cases and is preparing for outbreaks of malaria and diarrheal diseases with the onset of the rainy season. Currently MSF has 46 international humanitarian workers on the ground in Darfur working alongside hundreds of Sudanese staff.