View from Darfur: Delivering Aid in Sudan

Solomon Kebede, country director for Darfur, Sudan for the International Medical Corps, talks about the year-and-a-half he spent in war-torn region. Many groups have pulled out from or stayed away from Darfur, fearing for the safety of their staff.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan have displaced millions of people and killed at least 200,000. The conflict now threatens to spill over to other parts of the east African nation, with a new attack closer to Sudan's capital city of Khartoum. The attack came after a recent peace accord with rebel groups.

Many international aid groups have left or stayed away from Darfur.

Solomon Kebede of the International Medical Corps, has been there for a year and a half. He spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Solomon, welcome.

Mr. SOLOMON KEBEDE (International Medical Corps): Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So can you tell us what has been the toughest challenge for you as you've stayed there over the past 18 months?

Mr. KEBEDE: Logistic and security are the two main challenges that are facing, even up to now, and ...

CHIDEYA: When you say security, what do you mean?

Mr. KEBEDE: Security because of continued fighting between and among the rebel groups and (unintelligible) militias. I think some of the areas where you are operating sometimes are impossible. Constantly, I mean blocking our operations, so this is one big issue. Second is, (unintelligible) security is relatively calm. Again I mean because of these lack of transport facilities, and bad road conditions are also major problems.

Apart from that, currently, International Medical Corps and other humanitarian agencies operating in Darfur are facing serious challenges because of funding limitations. The problems are Darfur are still growing. The demand is there are no many unmet demands, and the government of Sudan is not ready to take over (unintelligible) capacity, to be honest. I mean, to take over all those responsibilities.

CHIDEYA: Do you think that people in the West or people with funds have gotten tired of hearing about Darfur, and that's why...

Mr. KEBEDE: Yes, sure. There is always, I mean, an issue of this donor's fatigue, but it's not just about a donor's fatigue issue here, but I think because of maybe some competing circumstances in other parts of the continent, the amount of money available to address the gaps for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur are getting smaller and smaller, and this is the biggest challenge, you know, the humanitarian agencies operating in Darfur are facing.

CHIDEYA: Are you afraid that you or your staff will be hurt or killed by -there are several different rebel groups operating, some of which have signed a peace accord, some of which have not. Are you afraid for your very lives?

Mr. KEBEDE: Always the threat is there, because we, being, I mean, foreigners through U.S.-based agencies, I think there's always a threat of, I mean, attack from wherever, but for us, IMC has such has very good and cordial relations with the beneficiaries, and we are providing much-needed health service and, therefore, I think we might be the last agencies to be under attack. Our security is more a danger because of this sudden withdrawal of assistance because of funding issues.

I think this is our major concern, but we just (unintelligible) beneficiaries that tomorrow you're going to stop this and that program because of lack of funding, and they see you providing your services in other areas, so people might not understand that you have good reason for stopping the program, and this always is a real issue for us.

CHIDEYA: Your group, the IMC, or the International Medical Corps, operates by bringing in a lot of local people to work on your programs. Tell us about that and why you think that might strengthen your program.

Mr. KEBEDE: Yes, I think in this circumstance, where we currently operate with diminishing funders, if you rely on international stuff, which might be expensive, your program might not be sustainable, and so I think working with national people keeps the program running under difficult funding situations, even. Not only that, they are there just to fill gaps, and as soon as the situation in Darfur improves, we're going to hand over everything to the nationals, so we'll have to prepare the ground for that eventual handover.

CHIDEYA: Very, very briefly, what is the one thing you're most proud of?

Mr. KEBEDE: We're very proud of being help to the needy people in Darfur, and our program, Internal Medical Corps' program there, is addressing a real gap, and we're proud of that.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with Slomon Kebede of the International Medical Corps.

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