- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

FACHANA, Chad — The crisis that has unfolded over the past year in western Sudan and eastern Chad has already left 1.2 million people homeless, and it will get worse in the coming months as famine and disease begin to kill off the weakened population, according to aid workers and government officials.

On the ground in neighboring Chad, where 130,000 Sudanese have fled to escape attacks by horse-mounted militiamen and regular army troops, humanitarian groups are bracing for a surge in disease as midyear rains spread maladies such as cholera and measles.

Bertrand Bazel manages a refugee camp in Fachana, Chad, for the aid organization Secadev, an affiliate of Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services. The camp, which was designed for 10,000 people, now houses more than 13,000, and Secadev is racing to obtain shelter for everyone before the rains.

“Before the rainy season, we’d like to have everyone here and housed,” Mr. Bazel said. “But that won’t happen.”

The catastrophe erupted as the Sudanese government, attempting to stamp out an insurgency in its western region of Darfur, waged a ruthless offensive beginning in mid-2003 that drove 130,000 people over the border into Chad. It left another million internally displaced within Sudan itself.

Most attacks on the villages occurred at the hands of the Janjaweed, an Arab militia that apparently worked in close coordination with Khartoum’s army, something the regime of President Omar Bashir has denied.

Roger Winter, an assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, told a congressional committee on May 6 that by June, the death rate among refugees in Darfur will reach three per 10,000 people each day, triple the rate that USAID considers an emergency.

USAID is predicting that the mortality rate could rise as high as 20 deaths per 10,000 people per day, the same catastrophic rate seen in southern Sudan during the famine of 1998.

“The cumulative result could be that as many as 30 percent of the affected population, potentially hundreds of thousands of people, would die over the next nine months,” Mr. Winter said.

Inside Sudan, the United Nations and other agencies are struggling to provide relief to victims of the violence, but have reached only a quarter to a third of the affected population.

One reason, U.S. officials say, is that Sudan has dragged its feet in granting visas to humanitarian workers. By the end of last week, Khartoum announced that it would issue visas within 48 hours of application, but the Bush administration said it was reserving judgment until it saw concrete results.

In the last few days, organizations such as the World Food Program and UNICEF have said their deliveries to the region are accelerating.

The aid organization Doctors Without Borders has begun speaking of “a population teetering on the verge of mass starvation” in Darfur. Its surveys have shown rapidly rising levels of malnutrition.

“Many people have been forced to flee their homes in search of food and safety,” the group’s emergency coordinator, Ton Koene, said in a May 20 statement. “They are not safe in their home villages, and so they have come to relief centers where they are finding only more death and suffering.”

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