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27 July 2004

Darfur Will Need Long-Term Assistance, USAID's Winter Predicts

Displaced civilians will need help for 18 months or more, official says

By Tara Boyle
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The crisis in Darfur is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world today, and the region will require substantial help from the international community for at least 18 months to help the affected population recover, a senior U.S. official said in a July 26 interview with the Washington File.

Many of the estimated 1.4 million people who have fled their homes due to the violence in Darfur are farmers whose fields, crops and granaries have been destroyed by the Arab militias, explained Roger Winter, the assistant administrator of the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They are unlikely to be able to support themselves for many months to come.

"People have missed their crop cycles," he said. "That means they're going to be dependent. Whatever ability they had to provide for themselves before, they can't provide for themselves when they're in these IDP [internally displaced person] camps.

"Whatever food stocks they have are gone, except what they may be carrying with them," said Winter. "They haven't been eating well for six, seven, eight months. They don't have access to clean water, [and] their bodies have been weakened over this period of time."

As the humanitarian crisis has worsened, the United States has stepped up its efforts to help Darfur, and is providing 80 percent of overall food aid to the region, Winter said. So far, the United States has spent more than $142 million on the crisis, and has provided shelter for nearly 700,000 people.

Even with these efforts, USAID has predicted that at least 300,000 people could die of malnutrition and disease in Darfur and Chad, and children are being disproportionately hit by famine.

"We're in a situation where ... there's no denying that a lot more needs to be done. What's important for people to keep in mind is that the U.S. government is far out in front of the rest of the world combined [in providing humanitarian aid to Darfur]," said Winter. "We were first there; we are biggest there; we are most active on the advocacy side."

Winter is scheduled to travel to Sudan August 3 with the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist (Republican from Tennessee). The two officials are planning to visit Khartoum and Darfur before ending their trip in southern Sudan, where the mood is more hopeful as work continues on a peace deal to end the long-running civil war between the government and southern rebels.

"I think the people of the South deserve it. They're ecstatic about the possibility," said Winter, noting that tens of thousands of people in southern Sudan have been participating in mass rallies in support of the peace deal in recent weeks. "People are just ‘up' for implementation of the peace."

"The U.S. is correct in saying, ‘We want the peace deal on the South, and we want you [the Sudanese government] to stop doing the bad things you're doing in Darfur.' That's the only way to deal with this."

On the humanitarian front, Darfur is not the only daunting task facing the international community in Sudan. Building the infrastructure of the South will also be a major project for the years ahead, Winter said.

"Southern Sudan is a huge, huge area with no paved roads. Outside of Juba [the capital of the southern region], there are hardly any bridges that are intact. Outside of Juba or a couple of other towns, there are hardly any buildings that are intact. It is the most devastated, destroyed place in the world."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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