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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Darfur villagers 'facing famine'
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC correspondent in Geneva

Sudanese women wait for food to be distributed in the village of Deesa, Darfur, 30 August
Food shortages could spur hungry villagers to flee to refugee camps
Rural communities in the Darfur region of Sudan are facing an unprecedented food crisis, according to the international Red Cross.

It says it is worse even than the African famines of the 1980s and 1990s.

A food-assessment survey in villages across Darfur in September found that most communities have planted, at best, only a third of the crops they need.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the 18-month conflict between rebel groups and government-backed militia.

More than a million people have been driven from their homes.

Planting disrupted

The conflict in Darfur has caused a collapse in agriculture, says the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Most villages have planted very little; farmers have had their seeds, their tools and their cattle looted.

More than 1.5m displaced
About 70,000 dead since February 2003
More at risk from disease, starvation and lack of aid
Arab militias accused of ethnic cleansing
Sudan blames rebels for starting conflict

These are the people who did not flee to camps for displaced persons - they tried to stay at home. Now they face famine.

The ICRC found these communities spending all their money on food at the local market, where prices are now two to three times what they were last year.

Those without money are resorting to collecting wild food - this exposes them to attack because, the Red Cross found, violence is still continuing.

Soon remaining food supplies will run out.

There is a risk of even more people fleeing because the camps have food and the villages do not.

The ICRC believes these communities could be facing an even worse hunger crisis than the famines of 20 years ago.

Red Cross delegates will continue to provide food assistance to the villages and begin distributing seeds and tools for the next planting season.

But, the organisation warns, this can only succeed if the violence comes to an end.

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