Church agencies join forces in Sudan

 Caritas Internationalis and Action by Churches Together (ACT) International have joined forces to respond to the ongoing humanitarian emergency in Sudan's Darfur Province. Both organisations are faith-based networks representing Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches and their related agencies across the world. The joint ecumenical response will be known as the ACT/Caritas Darfur Emergency Response (ACDER). Caritas and ACT will issue a joint 18-month appeal in June. A year and a half is considered to be the shortest possible time needed for internally displaced people and refugees to return to their homes and resume their lives. The estimated number of beneficiaries will be in excess of 125,000 people, mainly in Mershing and Ta'asha in South Darfur and Zalingi in West Darfur. These areas are all reached from Nyala, which will be the operational base for the joint program. In addition, new sites at Kass and around the Jebel Mara area will be assessed for inclusion in the humanitarian response. The situation in Sudan's Darfur region is "extremely grave," said Nils Carstensen, the leader of the ACT International coordination assessment who recently returned from the area of conflict. The violence has created to over one million internally displaced persons and caused more than 130,000 people to flee into neighbouring Chad, where Caritas is providing assistance to more than 30,000 refugees. ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) is assisting some 45,000 refugees in three camps in Chad. In the Darfur area where ACT members are working, more than 67,000 displaced people are camped in public buildings and open areas. Carstensen said that the biggest issue is the lack of protection. "Security issues are of equal importance to food assistance in the war torn area. We cannot deliver protection," he said. "But we can think protection." Duncan MacLaren, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis and Chair of SCHR added, "The latest reports predict the possibility of one million deaths from starvation if we do not act now. All of the UN organisations report a lack of funding. We urge all governments to realise the seriousness of the situation and commit funds to ensure as many lives as possible are saved". Within Sudan, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) will be the legal umbrella for the ACT/Caritas Darfur Emergency Response, led by an international reference group made up of representatives of ACT International and Caritas Internationalis and a National Advisory Committee (NAC) within Sudan to be convened by NCA. Most ACT member activities are currently taking place at Mershing, where a health clinic has been established. Nearby, a school that has been built with temporary materials will accommodate 500 students in six classrooms. Two hand pumps have been installed, with an additional three planned. 230 single-family shelters are being erected, and pit latrines have been installed. At Ta'asha, materials have been obtained to rehabilitate a school and health centre. 200 farming implements are being supplied to families there. Carstensen said, as this location seems more secure than other areas, internally displaced persons are returning there. At Zalingi, two schools made from temporary materials are being erected and pit latrines will be constructed. A distribution of non-food items according to needs has been started. The ACT alliance and the Caritas Confederation will request support from their respective members in seconding international staff, providing necessary resources, and raising funds for the joint program. The programme continues the work of ACT members and partners NCA, the Sudan Council of Churches and Sudan Development Organisation and Sudanaid of the Sudan Catholic Church.

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