Press Release

Women Suffer Brunt of Conflict in Western Sudan, UNFPA Warns

4 May 2004
Author: UNFPA

KHARTOUM—Continuing violence and displacement in the Darfur region of western Sudan are having devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of women and girls, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, warned this week after a UN humanitarian assessment team visited the region.

Nearly 1 million people have been uprooted since fighting broke out in early 2003. About 110,000 Sudanese have fled across the border to Chad, one of the world’s poorest countries. More than 800,000 remain displaced within Sudan, where most remain beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies due to continued fighting.

“Among the displaced are thousands of pregnant and nursing women, but only a fraction of these have managed to reach displacement camps so far,” said Pamela Delargy, Chief of the UNFPA Humanitarian Response Unit. “When they do arrive, all of these women require supplementary feeding, prenatal care and delivery assistance, and a significant number will need emergency obstetric care, to avoid maternal and infant deaths.”

Ms. Delargy and representatives from other UN agencies had just returned from a mission to Darfur to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis. The mission, headed by UN World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris, was conducted at the request of the Sudanese Government.

Even before the current crisis, many people in Darfur lived in extreme poverty, without access to sufficient health care, education or other services. These conditions, combined with some 14 months of armed conflict, have pushed Darfur into what senior UN officials recently characterized as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

The region suffers from very high maternal and infant mortality, as well as periodic drought and malnutrition. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced by the current conflict, which has involved widespread violent attacks and the looting and burning of entire villages. Many remain dispersed in isolated locations and unable to reach any organized settlements. Those settled in informal communities or organized camps face violence and insecurity outside their immediate areas. Sexual violence is widespread; women and girls have been victimized both during armed attacks and when leaving camps to gather water, fuel wood or fodder for animals.

UNFPA is working with Darfur State authorities and non-governmental organizations, including GOAL, the International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children U.S. to assist pregnant women through a comprehensive emergency response plan. It is sending: urgently needed medicine, supplies and equipment to enable women to deliver safely; equipment and scholarships to support five midwifery schools in Darfur; and international specialists in obstetrics and gynaecology to train local health care staff and help monitor reproductive health services. The Fund and its partners are also working to establish referral systems for obstetric emergencies and obtain transport and communications equipment to support them.

In addition, UNFPA is collaborating with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and NGOs to step up efforts to prevent and treat sexual violence, sexually transmitted infections and other medical conditions, and to support community psychological programs.

“As in many other recent conflicts, rape has become a weapon of war in western Sudan, with disastrous consequences for women and girls,” said Ms. Delargy. “In addition to physical protection, victims of sexual violence need urgent medical treatment, trauma counselling and social support.”

Due to family and community disruption, even those sheltered in camps and settlements remain vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. To address these dangers, UNFPA is working with other UN partners to ensure that proper camp design, management and awareness programmes are integral parts of programmes to prevent sexual violence and HIV infection in displacement camps. One such action is to provide fuel and fodder so women do not need to travel long distances in insecure environments. UNFPA will also work to ensure that women and girls have basic sanitary supplies.

UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, it has provided help to developing countries, at their request, to meet reproductive health needs and support development efforts.

Contact information:

Omar Gharzeddine
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5028

the Sudan
Population : 43.8 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 32%
Girls 31%

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