Sudan Relief Continues During Uncertain Period
By Linda Bloom*
NEW YORK (UMNS) - The United Methodist Committee on Relief work is continuing in Sudan, despite uncertainty over security in the near future.
Safety has only become a concern in the past two months in the areas of the south where UMCOR operates, according to Jane Ohuma, head of mission in the region, during a visit to the agency's New York headquarters. The heavy presence of the military, both on the ground and in the air, has curtailed the movement of all nongovernmental organization staff. The agency takes basic safety precautions and relies on national staff for access and information, she said.
Concerns about security were partly alleviated Sept. 20, when African Union President Blaise Comparoré announced that the AU peacekeeping mission in Sudan would be extended until Dec. 31. The news followed a meeting of AU Peace and Security Council members.
The peacekeeping mission's mandate was set to expire Sept. 30. United Nations officials had forecast that if the African Union's 7,000 troops pulled out of Sudan's troubled Darfur region, access by humanitarian workers would drastically deteriorate and more civilians could be killed in areas that aid workers can't reach, according to Reuters news service.
Some 2.5 million already have been driven from their homes because of the ongoing conflict in Sudan.
At the United Nations on Sept. 19, U.S. President George Bush called on that body to take action on Darfur, while Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan's president, said he would not accept a U.N. peacekeeping force.
UMCOR, which has offices in Khartoum, South Sudan and South Darfur, has received major support for its Sudan work from the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio.
The relief agency and other organizations closed their South Darfur offices in Ed Daein one day in September during demonstrations in which American-based agencies and those connected with the United Nations were rumored to be targets, but nothing happened, she reported.
"Our staff is still going out," Ohuma added. "Our programs are still running as usual."
Lack of funds
The agricultural program, based in the El Daein region of South Darfur, gathered seeds repaid by farmers and distributed them this year "to benefit additional farmers." The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization also provided seeds and tools to the program and funded a pasture rehabilitation project.
UMCOR continues to run its reception center in El Ferdous for those coming to settlements and camps in South Darfur, although the number of internally displaced people arriving has decreased, according to Ohuma. The center also "is suffering from lack of funds" and has few shelter materials, blankets or cooking utensils to distribute to newly arriving families.
The education program funded by Ginghamsburg Church, focusing on child development and protection, is "running quite well" and will benefit about 15,000 children, she reported. UNICEF is providing a complimentary program. A food distribution project with the U.N. World Food Programme also benefits about 50,000 people a month.
Need for water
UMCOR works in both rebel-held and government-held territories in South Darfur, which is why it can sometimes maintain programs when other organizations can't. "If one side is inaccessible, we still have the other side to continue our program," Ohuma explained.
One of the biggest challenges is the need for water. She has drawn money from other programs to help meet this need. "To see a grown man shedding tears just at the sight of water ... you feel you have done something," she said.
More funding is needed for UMCOR's projects in Sudan, according to Ohuma. Donations for "Sudan Emergency," Advance No. 184385, can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. To make a credit-card donation, call (800) 554-8583.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.