Troops are needed in Darfur, says UN

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 07 September 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:514
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. London

    Hundreds of thousands of people could die in the next few weeks in the Darfur region of Sudan unless United Nations troops are allowed to take over peace keeping in the region to avoid further war, the UN has warned. Further outbreaks of fighting would mean the withdrawal of international staff from Darfur, leaving millions of vulnerable people without help, officials have said.

    Embedded Image

    Refugees at waterhole in the dry river Wadi Kaca in Darfur


    The warning comes as the World Health Organization's cholera task force told the BMJ that the failure to contain a Vibrio cholerae outbreak in Sudan meant that there was a serious risk of a regional epidemic, especially given the current extent of rain and flooding in Sudan and neighbouring countries.

    The mandate of the African Union Mission in Sudan expires at the end of September, but UN forces will be allowed to take over only if Sudan agrees. Currently the government in Khartoum insists that the Sudanese people “will not consent to any resolution that will violate its sovereignty.”

    The UN humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland warned the UN security council, “Our entire humanitarian operation in Darfur—the only lifeline for more than three million people—is presently at risk. We need immediate action on the political front to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe with massive loss of life.”

    Meanwhile, Dr Claire-Lise Chaignat, the head of the WHO's cholera task force, warned of a V cholerae outbreak in Sudan. WHO has already recorded almost 25 000 cases and more than 700 deaths this year in Sudan alone, and many of the worst affected areas are already out of reach to health workers.

    “All the ingredients of a major epidemic are in place. You have already vulnerable populations, weakened by malnutrition and exposed to the elements, you have displaced people crowded together in unsanitary conditions, you have extensive rainfall and flooding, and you have the presence of the cholera bacillus.”

    Dr Chaignat explained, “The outbreak has already spread from south Sudan across the country into Darfur and the east and now risks affecting the neighbouring countries. It appears to have already crossed into Ethiopia and could soon emerge in Chad. This disease doesn't respect borders.”

    She said that such outbreaks were easily preventable.

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