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Sudan called 'world's worst humanitarian disaster'

Untold thousands of lives will be lost in the Darfur region of Sudan unless civilians are protected from the brutal Janjaweed militia and inter-ethnic fighting, says Caritas partner Nils Cartensen who has just returned from the area.

An estimated 1.2 million people in the region have been forced out of their homes by conflict and a brutal campaign of looting, rape and killing by the Janjaweed militia.

Experienced aid worker Mr Cartensen was shocked by the deteriorating situation that he witnessed during his recent assessment mission for the Catholic Aid agency and its partners. Caritas partners including Caritas Australia have launched appeals to fund work to provide help for around 125,000 displaced people in South Darfur and its team of five will be working with partners.

"All the signs are pointing in the wrong direction right now. You can't help getting the sense that it is going to get worse before it can get better," said Cartensen on his return to his London base. "Many, many displaced people are trapped. They may have escaped the Janjaweed attacks on their homes but they are now trapped in concentration camp-like centres and they are cut off from doing anything.

"After fleeing their homes they gather in compounds with no help or support offered. When they venture out from these compounds, just a few hundred metres away from the safety of the group, they risk being snatched by the Janjaweed. Every day women are being raped as they go out to collect firewood and the men claim that they cannot protect the women because then they will be abducted and killed."

Those who have fled their homes have little or no access to food, clean water, shelter or other humanitarian aid. But Mr Cartensen reports that even the simple act of providing those in need with food can increase their risk of attack from Janjaweed: "You can't just give large quantities of food to people here even if you had it because they feel that makes them a target.

Caritas Australia has been supporting numerous programs in Sudan through its partner agency CEAS (Church Ecumenical Action in Sudan) since the formation of CEAS in 1966. CEAS' mandate is to work with local partners in the most marginal communities, mainly responding to emergencies and training local workforces to conduct development work.

Sudan: 'world's worst humanitarian disaster' (Independent Catholic News 8/6/04)

Civilians must be protected in Sudan says aid agency (Ekklesia 8/6/04)
Caritas response to emergency in Sudan (Caritas Australia 21/5/04)
A first-person account from a Sudanese mother whose family was forced to flee Darfour (Caritas Australia 21/5/04)
First-person account - Abdullah (Caritas Australia 21/5/04)
CAFOD | CAFOD launches Sudan appeal

9 Jun 2004