Starvation in Darfur soars

Linked with When disadvantaged peoples become liars – The Zoe’s Ark mess, and with Zoe’s Ark.

World’s largest aid operation fails to stem child malnutrition in turbulent African region, UN finds

Published on The Star, by Jeffrey Gettleman of NEW YORK TIMES, Dec 27, 2007.

4 excerpts: NAIROBI – Kenya–Child malnutrition rates have increased sharply in Darfur, even though it is home to the world’s largest aid operation, according to a new UN report.

The report showed 16.1 per cent of children affected by the conflict in Darfur, a vast, turbulent region in western Sudan, are acutely malnourished, compared with 12.9 per cent last year. For the first time since 2004, the malnutrition rate has crossed what UN officials consider the emergency threshold.

Just as important, the increase has occurred despite the efforts of more than 12,000 relief workers in Darfur, drawing from an annual aid budget of about $1 billion. Aid officials said that they were concerned that even with all these resources, the health of the people in Darfur seemed to be getting worse.

“This is a big deal,” said Jean Rigal, the head of a branch of Doctors Without Borders in Sudan. “The system is not working as expected” …

… As a result, people in Darfur are beginning to lose hope, and that may be another factor taking a toll on their health, aid officials said.

“There is a psychological effect here,” said an aid official in Sudan who did not want to be identified.

“These people have been in these camps for years now, and the energy that was around a few years ago and the hopes that this situation might be over soon and people could go home – all that’s gone now.” He said that depression could affect how mothers care for their children, and that the malaise in the camps would make poor health conditions worse.

Darfur has been a humanitarian crisis since 2003, when rebels frustrated by a long history of marginalization attacked government forces. The Sudanese government responded by arming tribal militias to wipe out the rebels and the civilians supporting them. Villages were burned, countless women raped and more than 200,000 people have died, according to conservative estimates …

… The new UN report was based on information collected in August and September from thousands of Darfurians affected by the conflict, including those living in squalid camps (the United Nations estimates roughly 2.2 million people have been displaced by fighting). The report cited “consistently poor infant and young child feeding practices” and a “deterioration in the overall food security situation” …

… Malnutrition rates are a highly sensitive subject in Sudan, and Sudanese government officials have objected to some of these findings, taking issue with the survey methodology and the characterization of the problem.

“It’s true, there is a gap of food in Darfur and the conflict is not settled yet,” said Rabie Atti, a government spokesperson. “But from our information, the situation is better now than before”. (full text).

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