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Aid Worker: No Easy Answers In Darfur


We're not hearing much about it these days, but that doesn't mean the conflict in Darfur is calming down. For the next few minutes, we'll hear how hard it is for those trying to help the victims of violence in this western region of Sudan from one aid worker who spoke to NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: In his three years in Darfur, Jerry Farrell has seen many changes, mostly for the worse. He now runs programs for Save the Children, and his biggest headache is keeping his staff safe.


Mr. JERRY FARRELL (Aid Worker, Save the Children): We can't use our own trucks anymore. We use beat-up rental vehicles because if we use Save the Children trucks, we'd be carjacked. There's a hundred percent chance of that.

KELEMEN: Farrell describes a lawless region where peacekeepers can't even patrol camps, especially not at night. And bandits run off with just about anything they can steal, even pots or plastic sheeting from displaced people.

Mr. FARRELL: We had sewing machines taken from a lot of our women's centers in June, July. So what we do is we take sewing machines out in the morning. We bring them back at night. So we just shift. We used to actually have food staying overnight at our food distribution centers around N'Djamena, the capital of West Darfur. We stopped doing that in June because of very large thefts.

KELEMEN: There are dozens of aid groups working in Darfur in a conflict the Bush administration labeled a genocide. Sudan was widely blamed early in the war for arming and unleashing so-called Janjaweed militias to put down a rebellion in Darfur. Rebels have since splintered. And now, Farrell says, every couple of months a new armed group seems to emerge. And all sides are recruiting younger and younger soldiers.

Mr. FARRELL: There are just more teenage boys with guns at 12 and 13, not 16, 17. We see them in the trucks moving through, you know, through N'Djamena where I live. Yeah, I definitely see a decrease in age.


KELEMEN: Asked what a new Obama administration could do, the aid worker says there are no easy answers other than trying to get as many players at the table to negotiate peace and trying to figure out which groups have legitimate political goals and which are simply groups of bandits. There is more the U.S. and others can do on the security front. A U.N.-African Union force, known as UNAMID, is still much smaller than promised. And Farrell doesn't see troops implementing their mandate to protect civilians.

Mr. FARRELL: There aren't enough people on the ground. And they've hunkered down because unfortunately this year, sadly, a number of the UNAMID troops have been ambushed and killed. I would say murdered is the proper word.

KELEMEN: The lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is asking judges to indict three rebel leaders accused of attacking peacekeepers in 2007 in a case some advocates hope will deter future attacks on international troops. Sam Worthington, who runs InterAction, an umbrella organization for American nonprofit groups, says the security situation has to improve if aid work is to continue at the level that it has to date. He warns the world should not take it for granted that this humanitarian operation, the largest in the world, will always be there.

Mr. SAM WORTHINGTON (President and CEO, InterAction): The world cannot depend on several hundred international humanitarians who are working with 12,000 local humanitarians to hold a patch quilt together of something that was stopped halfway through a genocide.

KELEMEN: Jerry Farrell of Save the Children says there is one thing that keeps him in Darfur and, as he puts it, keeps a bounce in his step. That is the resilience of the people he meets, especially Darfuri children. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.