FRESH tribal clashes in Darfur are a cause of "serious concern" that could force even more civilians from their homes, joining the 2.5 million already displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict, the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping force in the region said this week.
The UN last month extended its peacekeeping mission to protect civilians in the remote western region of Sudan, despite an earlier demand from the government that the force — UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur) — should pull out.
Disputes between the two forces had escalated after UNAMID tried to investigate reports of a mass rape of women and young girls by Sudanese troops.
Conflict in the region between armed government forces and rebel groups is still continuing, more than a decade after fighting began. Some 2.5 million people are believed to have been displaced from their homes; 300,000 are thought to have been killed; and 4.4 million are starving and in need of aid, UN figures suggest.
One of the only aid agencies left working in the region is the British charity Kids for Kids. It sponsors whole villages, offering grassroots projects, from providing goats to training midwives.
The charity was set up by Patricia Parker after she met a nine-year-old boy who was walking seven miles across the desert to fetch water for his family. It now helps 70 villages in some of the poorest parts of the region, and is supported by churches, including Southwark Cathedral.
Mrs Parker said that eight of their sponsored villages had been attacked in clashes this year, but had not been destroyed, and villagers were gradually returning.
"There is no other organisation providing sustainable help," she said. "All the big aid agencies were expelled by the government. There were 112 or more aid agencies in Darfur, but now there are very few. We were very lucky, as we’d made a decision to work with the local community and empower them to help themselves.
"We employ two people on the ground: both are Sudanese, and one is from Darfur. We try to get the community to run the project, and the government allows them to get on with it."
The "indirect effects of violence were very long-term", she said. "UNICEF reported two years ago that there are children in every village in Darfur who are malnourished; well, now, children are dying from starvation.
"Last year, there were 18 villages we could adopt; this year, there are over 36 villages on the shortlist with major problems, who are beyond what would be classed as poverty. All of them have reported children dying of starvation and starvation-related diseases and malaria. This is inexcusable, and just should not happen.
"Last year, we took on five villages; this year, we hope to take on eight, if the funding is there. Each village costs between £20,000 and £35,000, if all our projects are introduced; but these go on to transform the whole community."
She said that wages in Darfur were less than £25 a year, owing to inflation. "When you think that we are paying £38 for a goat, and £60 for a donkey — a billy goat can be £60, too — then you can see the value of what we are doing," she said.
The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has raised his concerns about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur with the Vice-President of Sudan, Bakri Hassan Saleh, this week, and called on his government to support UNAMID.
The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, but, despite travelling to other African nations on official visits, he has so far evaded capture.