MSF boosts aid effort in Sudan as famine looms

International humanitarian aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres is preparing to send 30 more nurses and nutritionists to Darfur in western Sudan to try to deal with the famine that it says is looming.

Spokesman Martyn Broughton said the agency's use of the word "famine" illustrated how dire the situation was. "It is not a word we use lightly, because it has been used as a shroud-waving device too often in the past."

MSF already has 46 international medical and nutritional specialists working in Darfur, alongside hundreds of local staff, but is planning to send a further 30 in the next month or so.

"Our research indicates that this crisis won't reach its height until November," said Broughton. "We are planning our staff requirements now for six months ahead. The death and suffering here is set to escalate to catastrophic proportions."

MSF's surveys revealed that a fifth of all children aged under five were suffering acute malnutrition and 5 per cent had died in the past three months. "These levels of mortality are well in excess of death rates defined as an emergency," said Broughton.

Conflict has been escalating between rebel groups and state-sponsored militia in Darfur since February 2003, and civilians have become targets of brutal attacks. An estimated 1 million people have been forced from their homes and now live without adequate food, water and shelter, making them unable to plant crops before the next rainy season.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council on 24 May, MSF emergency co-ordinator Ton Koene said: "What is immediately clear when you visit Darfur is that the population has been seriously traumatised and left without any protection. In my 15 years' of experience with MSF, I have never been to a feeding centre where there was absolutely no sense of relief among people who were finally beginning to see a light at the end of their tunnel of suffering, until I went to Darfur."

Oxfam is planning to send 15 more staff to the region.

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