United Methodist Relief Agency
to Set up Operations Inside Sudan
By Linda Beher and Elliott Wright
United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), currently serving Sudanese refugees in Chad, is now poised to provide more direct services inside Sudan. UMCOR will extend its efforts with displaced persons inside the violence-torn Darfur section of Sudan by mid-December.
An investigative team, which spent three weeks in the area for UMCOR, found continuing need for basic relief efforts, for steps to ward off famine, and for preparation to eventually return people to their homes. UMCOR has become a registered provider of direct services inside the country.
The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have been killed and 1.6 million pushed from their homes by a months-old rampage supported by the government of Sudan. International efforts to bring a halt to the violence are so far unsuccessful.
Jen Poitras, UMCOR assessment team member, described the killing and plunder primarily as a conflict between “pastoral people,” most of whom are Arabs, directed against “agricultural” or settled people, most of whom are African. Virtually all of the people in Darfur are Muslim. The government has backed the Arab militia, referred to as Janjaweed.
Poitras explained that Darfur, which is about the size of Texas, has three regions: north, south and west. Most of the attacks on the settled villages have been in the west. Survivors have fled into Chad and the southern region. UMCOR will initially concentrate in the south, with a priority on the distribution of essential emergency supplies such as buckets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils, and soap.
“I am pleased that we were able to send our own investigative team into Darfur to get a first-hand view of the situation,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the General Board of Global Ministries. UMCOR is part of the global mission agency.
Day indicated the United Methodist General Conference, the legislative unit of the 11 million-member denomination, last May instructed the board to monitor and report on conditions in Darfur, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance.
He thanked staff and friends of UMCOR in relief and diplomatic arenas for helping to make the investigative team possible. It is one of the few independent inspections to be allowed by the government of the Sudan.
Poitras said that most of the refugees in South Darfur have little food or shelter and no way to cook, but seem more afraid of attack.
She said that along with the political violence Darfur is facing the almost sure likelihood of famine in the near future. The agricultural system, she stated, has broken down. Seed, poultry, farm animals, and equipment have been lost.
The southern part of the area, where UMCOR will operate, is also seen as a good staging location for the eventual reintegration of the people of Darfur.
UMCOR will initially make a modest investment in the Darfur operation. It will solicit additional funds from United Methodists and from governmental and international donors.
“We must become even more active in providing assistance and in advocating for international action to stop the violence,” Day said. “We must continue and increase both humanitarian and diplomatic efforts.”
He urged “the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the United States to intensify efforts aimed at persuading Khartoum to end the violence and prepare for the return of the refugees.”
UMCOR is currently partnering with an international ecumenical alliance in Chad refugee camps where 130,000 Sudanese have fled from their burned and looted villages.
Date posted: Nov 16, 2004