Home | News    Friday 16 July 2004

Epidemic "timebomb" threatens Sudan’s Darfur region, aid group warns

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By Victoria Elles

BERLIN, July 16, 2004 (dpa) — Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region is an epidemic "timebomb" for cholera and malaria with the rainy season coming up, the aid group Doctors Without Borders warned Friday.

"The rain will wash a broth of human faeces full of germs through the camps and into the wells, contaminating drinking water," said Dr. Ulrike von Pilar, who heads the German Section of Doctors Without Borders.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 1 million people have been displaced within Dafur and another 400,000 refugees are in neighbouring Chad since violence began last winter.

An escalation in the conflict over recent months has seen up to 30,000 people killed by Sudanese government-backed Arab "Janjaweed" militias. The situation has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Violence against refugees by militias was continuing, said von Pilar.

"Women are often raped, men are killed or tortured and some families send their children out in the morning to collect firewood in the hope that they will be less likely to be attacked than the parents," she said.

Von Pilar said that aside from malnutrition amongst children the big fear is an epidemic of cholera, diarrhea and malaria with the start of the rainy season.

She described the refugee camps as "four kilometres of plastic sheeting and a lot of misery" and criticized the slow response of the international community and the United Nations to the unfolding crisis.

But asked if Doctors Without Borders wanted a U.N. force to help protect its aid workers, von Pilar underlined that this was not part of her group’s demands.

Doctors Without Borders have so far spent 33 million euros (41 million dollars) on projects in Darfur, she said. Most of the money comes from private donations.

Five members of Doctors Without Borders were killed in Afghanistan last month.

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