by Staff Writers
Khartoum (AFP) June 27, 2011
Sudan's government and the United Nations launched a $1-billion cash appeal Monday to help reverse the rapid decline in Darfur's water supplies, seen as one the key drivers in the region's conflict.
"We are here to transfer water from being a cause of frequent conflict to an instrument for sustainable peace," Salahedin Yussef, Sudan's state minister for irrigation and water resources, told delegates.
"Long years of conflict and drought have made water an ever more valuable resource for the people of Darfur. The growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has added to the pressures," he added.
Organisers of the Water for Sustainable Peace conference say the money they hope to raise will fund 65 different water-related projects over six years.
Two top concerns raised by the main speakers at the opening of the two-day conference were the demographic explosion that Darfur has witnessed in the past few decades combined with more frequent droughts.
In North Darfur, where deadly clashes broke out between government troops and rebels just 10 days ago, 16 out of the 20 driest years on record have occurred since 1972.
Darfur's population has risen from 1.3 million in the early 1970s to 8.2 million, with the number of city dwellers, who consumed up to six times more water per capita last year than their rural counterparts, doubling between 2003 and 2006.
Despite this, the majority of the population are agro-pastoralists, and much of the wider regional conflict has become inextricably linked to disputes over natural resources.
Khartoum plans to contribute $216 million to the 65 projects, as part of a package for development in Darfur amounting to $1.9 billion in the next four years, Yussef told AFP on sidelines of the conference.
At least 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict and 1.9 million people forced to flee their homes since non-Arab rebels first rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003, according to the United Nations.
Sudan's western region, which is about the size of France, has witnessed a significant decline in violence in recent years, a point underlined by the head of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari.
"If you look at the statistics, between January and May, just over 400 people have been killed by armed conflict in Darfur. If you compare it with south Sudan over the same period, they say 1,200 people have been killed by armed conflict," Gambari told reporters.
"As we speak, people are moving voluntarily from South Darfur to West Darfur. In fact, in some neighbouring countries, some refugees have decided to come back -- from Chad and Libya."
He said dependable water supplies were an essential prelude to the voluntary return of IDPs, almost a quarter of the region's population.
Despite the relative lull, there has been sporadic fighting between government forces and the three main rebel groups since December, when rebel leader Minni Minnawi took up arms against the government for failing to implement a 2006 peace accord.
The fighting has displaced about 70,000 people this year, according to the UN, whose Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, said she was "shocked" by the conditions at Zamzam, one of the main IDP camps in North Darfur which she visited on Friday.
Government officials admitted there was a lack security in parts of the region, which they blame on tribal conflict, minority armed forces and banditry.
"You can't say there is 100 percent security in Darfur... But those who are secure and those who are not secure all need assistance with water," said Yussef.
"It is a necessity. It cannot wait for 100 percent security," he added.
Some speakers argued water availability was not the main issue.
A study carried out by French firm RTI two years ago indicated nearly 30 million people could be provided with water in Darfur, according to Sampath Kumar, a Sudan-based water, sanitation and hygiene expert.
"The issue is managing the water supply... It's not only true for Darfur, it's true for most of the world," Kumar added.
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