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UMCOR focuses direct aid on Sudan’s troubled Darfur region

 


UMCOR focuses direct aid on Sudan’s troubled Darfur region

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of USAID

Two displaced women in North Darfur wait for food. The United Nations estimates 1.6 million have been pushed from their homes in Sudan.
Nov. 16, 2004

By Linda Beher*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—The United Methodist Committee on Relief, currently serving Sudanese refugees in Chad, is preparing to provide more direct services to the Sudan.

UMCOR will extend its efforts with displaced people inside the violence-torn Darfur section of Sudan by mid-December.

An investigative team, which spent three weeks in the area for the denomination’s relief agency, found continuing need for basic relief efforts, for steps to ward off famine and for preparation to help people return to their homes. UMCOR has become a registered provider of direct services inside the country.

The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have been killed and 1.6 million pushed from their homes by a months-old rampage supported by the government of Sudan. International efforts to bring a halt to the violence have been unsuccessful.

Jen Poitras, UMCOR assessment team member, described the killing and plunder primarily as a land-grab by "pastoral people," most of whom are Arabs, directed against "agricultural" or settled people, most of whom are African. The government has backed the Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed. Virtually all of the people in Darfur are Muslim.

Poitras explained that Darfur, which is about the size of Texas, has three regions: north, south and west. Most of the attacks on the settled villages have been in the west, and survivors have fled into Chad and the southern region. UMCOR will initially concentrate on the south, with a priority on distributing essential emergency supplies such as buckets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils and soap.

"I am pleased that we were able to send our own investigative team into Darfur to get a firsthand view of the situation," said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which includes UMCOR.

The United Methodist General Conference, the legislative body of the 11 million-member denomination, instructed the mission agency last May to monitor and report on conditions in Darfur, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance, Day noted.

The work by UMCOR’s investigative team is one of the few independent inspections being allowed by Sudan’s government. Day thanked staff and friends of UMCOR in relief and diplomatic arenas for helping make the team possible.

Most of the refugees in South Darfur have little food or shelter and no way to cook but seem more afraid of attack, Poitras said.

Along with political violence, Darfur is facing the likelihood of famine in the near future, she said. The agricultural system has broken down, she said. Seed, poultry, farm animals and equipment have been lost.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of USAID

Villagers in West Darfur walk among what remains of their homes and possessions.
The southern part of the area, where UMCOR will operate, is seen as a good staging location for the eventual reintegration of the people of Darfur.

UMCOR will initially make a modest, undisclosed investment in the Darfur operation. It will solicit additional funds from United Methodists and from governmental and international donors.

"We must become even more active in providing assistance and in advocating for international action to stop the violence," Day said. "We must continue and increase both humanitarian and diplomatic efforts."

He urged "the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the United States to intensify efforts aimed at persuading Khartoum to end the violence and prepare for the return of the refugees."

UMCOR is partnering with an international ecumenical alliance in Chad refugee camps, where 130,000 Sudanese have fled from their burned and looted villages. Continuing support by donors will assist the new efforts inside Darfur. Donors may send their gifts to Advance #184385, Sudan Emergency, in care of UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. To donate using a credit card, contributors may call, toll free, (800) 554-8583.

*Beher is communications director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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