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The Catholic New World

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today’s Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.


CRS offers life-saving emergency aid in Darfur

Violence in the Darfur region of Sudan has left more than 400,000 people dead in the last three years and pushed more than 2.5 million people out of their homes, as well as making at least a million more dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.

The violence started with conflicts between rebel groups and government-backed militias, the Janjaweed, who attacked the black African villages of Darfur in retaliation for rebel attacks. As the conflicts go on, Catholic Relief Services continues to work in the region, providing the bare necessities of life to people who have lost the resources to provide for themselves. Scott LeFevre coordinates CRS efforts in Sudan from the organization's headquarters in Baltimore. He came to the Catholic New World offices Dec. 19 after a speaking engagement in Indiana to talk about the situation.

The Catholic New World: What is going on in Darfur now?
Scott LeFevre: It's a very violent situation right now. There are lots of militias, there are lots of bandits, there's fighting in Chad. It's just a very volatile situation in Darfur in general and especially in west Darfur where we're working. There have been several militia attacks in recent weeks. There have been lots of rebel/militia clashes. Things have calmed down in El Geneina, the main town of west Darfur where we work, in the last couple of days, but it's a very changeable situation.

TCNW: What is CRS doing there?
SL: We work in the northern half of the state of west Darfur. The main thrust of our program is life-saving support, life-saving activities such as food, water, sanitation, shelter and non-food items-non-food items being things like cooking pots. People flee their homes, they don't stop and pick up their pots and forks and spoons and cups. We group all that under the term non-food items. For example, we gave a two-month ration to a little over 140,000 people in the month of November, and we'll need to get back up there by early to mid-January to give another ration. That's food. In the area of water and sanitation, we're working on some rehabilitation of water sources and latrine construction, and then we work on shelter when there is displacement to provide basic shelter materials, roofing materials and others, to help people build their own shelters.

TCNW: What's in a food ration?
SL: It changes depending on what's available. Basically, a food ration consists of three things: a cereal, a pulse and a limpid, which is usually oil. The cereal is often wheat or corn. The pulse is either some sort of bean or lentil, some sort of legume, and then oil. Basically, it's just what people need to survive. There is some attempt to make sure it is acceptable to people-we're not giving them things they have never eaten before.

TCNW: The 140,000 people that you provided food to in December, are those people all displaced from their homes?
SL: The vast majority are. We do make it a point to support people who are vulnerable but are in what we call host communities. People are displaced and they move into an area, and the simple fact that they are there means tensions are raised. What are they doing? They're looking for firewood, because they need to cook their food. So there is a tension over resources. We need to make sure we are conscious of those tensions and that part of the mechanism for making sure those tensions don't get out of control is making sure we are taking care of the needs of some of the vulnerable people in the host community. That's a bit of a mouthful, but you get the idea. There are many other vulnerable people besides those who are displaced. It would be a distortion if you said you can only receive aid if you leave your home. We are looking at people who are vulnerable to the general situation. But there are over 2.5 million people who have been displaced. The number of vulnerables in addition to that? Push that number up to 3 and half, 4 million. There are at least 3 and half million people who are vulnerable.

TCNW: What's your evaluation as to how the aid community is coping with this? Is there enough aid? Is there cooperation? Are there people who are falling through the cracks?
SL: There are people who are falling through the cracks. At times, the level of aid is a constraint. At times, it's the insecurity that's the constraint. I wouldn't say we're chronically short of funding. At times, the insecurity is the big constraint. If you look at the way funding is done in our government-the U.S. government is the biggest supporter of aid in Darfur. It is doing a lot. Could the U.S. government or others do more? Sure. There are times when aid is the constraint. But let's say there are 100,000 vulnerable people in one area. You don't just say, should we go out and serve them or not? You have to set all that up. You don't just say, "Hey, the food's here." There have been a lot of newly displaced-in the hundreds of thousands in the last several months. There are huge constraints in trying to continue to serve those we are serving, and most of those constraints are security. But there are certain areas of need that don't get served at times because of the lack of funding.

TCNW: What do you want the Catholic community here to know?
SL: They should know that they do have a Catholic organization that is working with the Sudanese church, with vulnerable people and international organiza
tions in Darfur to provide aid. I would also say if they're interested in learning more, if they're interested in doing more, they can go to our Web site (sudan.crs.org) for information. If certain local groups are interested in doing more, they can contact our regional offices, here in Chicago for example. There's a lot that people can do. They can learn about a situation, they can form interest groups, they can donate to CRS or another humanitarian organization.

TCNW: What would you see as really good news?
SL: Do you want big news or small news? On a day-to-day level, it would be great to hear that insecurity has been reduced and that we were able to get back to the job at hand of delivering humanitarian aid. U.N. convoys have been interrupted, there's been a lot of insecurity in west Darfur, and that has interrupted our programming. Good day-to-day news would be that we could resume activities and get back to the job at hand. Big news-Peace in Sudan. How's that sound? Big news would be an end to the violence.

TCNW: You don't sound as if you foresee that happening anytime soon.
SL: Sudan is so unpredictable that I wouldn't rule it out, The situation in Sudan is quite changeable, so anything's possible. It's difficult what to predict what will happen day to day.

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