Copyright 2004

[ June 8th 2004 ]

After touring refugee camps and crude shelters in eastern Chad over the weekend, the actress Angelina Jolie, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has issued an urgent call for funds to help bring relief to the tens of thousands of Sudanese escaping militia attacks in Darfur. Ms. Jolie warned that UNHCR and non-government aid agencies were in "a race against time before the rainy season comes" later this month. "When the rains start to fall, the weak temporary structures in the makeshift shelters will be in danger of collapsing," she said warning that illnesses was likely to spread, especially among children, due to the breakdown of sanitation.

Ms. Jolie added that emergency food and medical supplies for the estimated 158,000 Sudanese refugees living in Chad will be almost impossible to transport by road once the heavy rains begin. During her two-day tour, Ms. Jolie met refugees who told harrowing stories of having to suddenly leave their home villages in Darfur - an arid, impoverished region in the west of Sudan - following attacks by Janjaweed militias. A UN human rights report released last month found that the Janjaweed, a loose band of Arab fighters that were recruited and armed by the Sudanese Government in its conflict with two rebel groups in Darfur, had committed numerous atrocities against civilians, including killings, rapes and the ransacking of villages.

The Sudanese Government and the rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire in early April, but militia attacks on civilians have not ceased. Last week the organizers of a UN donorsí conference in Geneva concluded that at least $236 million more is needed simply to help the people still living within Darfur. More than a million people are believed to be internally displaced within the regionís three provinces.

Today the UNís World Food Programme (WFP) echoed that call, saying it needs funds urgently ahead of the rainy season. Meanwhile, within Darfur, the UN Childrenís Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) over the weekend to vaccinate 2.26 million children against measles by the end of the month. UNICEFís Executive Director Carol Bellamy estimated that if the campaign can prevent a major outbreak of measles in Darfur, then the lives of 50,000 children could be saved. Special vehicles have been brought in to Darfur to transport the vaccines, which are heat sensitive. Many of the children being vaccinated will also be immunized against polio.

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