The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun a major airlift to Sudan’s troubled Darfur region – its largest since last year’s war in Iraq.
The Geneva-based organisation said on Tuesday its aim was to help the thousands of people who urgently need humanitarian aid.
“We need to send material that is desperately required to reinforce our work in the field,” said ICRC spokesman Marco Jimenez.
The aid will help with food, health and water needs in the area, which is in the grip of what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
According to the UN, up to 50,000 people have been killed and more than one million others forced to flee their homes in a conflict between black African factions and the Arab-dominated government.
The ICRC operation is scheduled to last until September 5, by which time 720 tons of equipment will have reached Darfur.
Largest field operation
The region will become the ICRC’s largest field operation, involving 90 expatriates and 600 local employees.
The six planned flights from Geneva to Khartoum will transport 55 trucks, 27 four-wheel drives as well as tents, medical supplies and spare parts.
The supplies will be transported from the Sudanese capital to Darfur, a trip which is expected to take up to 15 days depending on the final destination.
“This equipment will allow us to reach areas where aid organisations haven’t been until now,” Jimenez told swissinfo.
“We will be able to extend the scope of our activities, speed up access to the victims of the conflict and better evaluate their needs,” he added.
Stepping up efforts
The ICRC has until now mainly been flying in food supplies from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, twice a week.
But Jimenez says that the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur has forced the organisation to step up its efforts.
“For the past three weeks, it has become obvious that our operations in Darfur need massive support,” he said.
The Darfur conflict began over 18 months ago, when black African factions rose up against the Arab-dominated government, claiming they were being discriminated against in the distribution of the region’s scarce resources.
Since then, Arab militias allegedly backed by Khartoum have gone on a rampage in the region.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Sudan in June and said that aid alone would not be enough to end the conflict between rebels and government-backed militias.
A Swiss delegation also recently toured a number of camps for displaced people around the rural town of Al Geneina, around 30 kilometres from the Chad border.
Delegates were also briefed on the work of Swiss non-governmental organisations, which have been active in the region for about six months.
They said that while conditions had improved for refugees, security was still a major problem.
swissinfo with agencies
Since the start of the crisis, the ICRC has:
Provided basic household items for 295,000 displaced people in 19 locations.
Delivered food aid to over 40,000 people in ten locations.
Upgraded infrastructure in four hospitals.
Made arrangements to deliver water to over 150,000 people.
Arranged for 80,000 people to be transported to completed camps.
Since February 2003, Darfur’s two insurgent movements have been fighting the Sudanese government and Arab militias.
UN officials accuse the government of trying to crush the revolt by backing a scorched earth policy carried out by the militias, a claim denied by Khartoum.
Over a million people have fled their homes, with 200,000 taking refuge in neighbouring Chad.