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UN wants almost $183 million to help Darfur refugees and locals in 2005

The United Nations is appealing for almost US$ 183 million next year to help 200,000 refugees who have fled the conflict in Darfur for the safety of Chad, as well as the local people living alongside them, a senior UN official said on Wednesday.

With clashes still erupting in Darfur between rebel troops and pro-government militia, aid workers are also worried that another 100,000 harassed and frightened refugees might start pouring across the border in the months to come.

"The situation requires that we redouble our efforts. We need US$ 182.69 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis in eastern Chad in 2005," Cyrille Niameogo, the acting UN humanitarian coordinator for the country, told IRIN by telephone.

The biggest chunk of the funds -- some US$ 65 million -- will be spent on providing food. Refugees living in 11 camps dotted around the arid, dusty expanses of the east will benefit and so too will local Chadians, whose quality of life in some cases is worse than that of the Sudanese sleeping in tents and getting regular food rations.

Although the locals, who come from the same ethnic groups and speak the same language as the refugees, initially welcomed the new arrivals, resentment has been growing.

This year's below-par rainy season, poor harvest and increased competition for already-scarce resources like grazing land and firewood have exacerbated the tensions. Aid workers say at least three refugees have been killed in skirmishes with residents.

"We shouldn't forget the impact of this crisis on the local population," Niameogo said. "They are suffering too."

The UN official launched the 2005 appeal in the Chadian capital, N'djamena, on Tuesday alongside leading government figures.

Experts, like those at the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, say the Darfur crisis poses a "serious threat" to Chadian President Idriss Deby.

And a new wave of refugees would pile further pressure on his impoverished, landlocked country where 80 percent of the eight million people live on less than a dollar a day.

"There is the risk of instability spreading, not only in Chad, but the whole region," Niameogo said.

The conflict in western Sudan has been running for nearly two years, since Darfur rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, saying it had neglected the region. They accuse Khartoum of backing the Janjawid, an Arab militia on horseback and camels, to put down the rebellion and wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs.

Although both sides in the Darfur crisis signed a security and humanitarian accord last month, violence has been escalating with reports of multiple ceasefire violations. Fears are running high that this may spark another exodus to Chad.

The Sudanese government and the two rebel groups - the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army and the Justice and Equality Movement - are expected to begin a fourth round of talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Friday and will be under pressure from the international community to ensure a meaningful peace.

The UN Security Council this week expressed its deep concern. It noted that the number of people affected by the conflict had jumped to 2.3 million, while the percentage of vulnerable people who could be reached in Darfur had dropped to as low as 67 percent in some areas.

Aid workers worry that if residents in Darfur are still under threat of attack and cannot get help, they may be tempted to flee across the border.

"If the crisis isn't resolved quickly, we fear a new influx of refugees," said the UN's Niameogo. "The hypothesis we're working on is another 100,000 people."

And aid agencies are already up against the inhospitable terrain. Finding water is a Herculean task in this dustbowl region, but crucial if new camps are to be built to reduce overcrowding at the current sites. If more refugees flock to Chad, the water issue will become even more pressing.

"There are still problems with water which has of course remained a priority," Niameogo said, adding that several sites had been identified and surveys were being carried out.

"But it's not a case of being able to open new camps tomorrow, or even in a month. It will take some time."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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