(Jun 21, 2007)

Darfur conflict making environmental damage worse

By Alfred de Montesquiou
From AP

Once the war is over, families who attempt to return to their villages will require more scarce wood to rebuild their homes. A traditional family compound requires the wood from 30 to 40 trees, Tearfund says. That means 12 million to 16 million trees for the 2.5 million refugees, the report said.

With resources so depleted, U.N. and private aid groups are struggling to devise a ''do no harm'' policy.

In the Es Sallam camp next to El Fasher, a U.S. aid group, International Lifeline, has introduced a redesigned stove that uses up to 80 percent less wood. Nearly three-quarters of the camp's families now use the stoves, said Wahid Jahangiri, an Iranian who spent weeks in Es Sallam teaching women how to operate them.

''We started this as an environmental project and we're only beginning to realize the whole social and cultural impact it's having,'' said David Welf, the aid group's director.

In southern Darfur, where the damage is less than in the north, aid groups and U.N. agencies are seeking to reconcile farmers and nomads to protect what has not yet been destroyed.

Near the nomad encampment of Damrat Surmi, Arab chiefs have agreed to revive a ''peace committee'' to manage resources in common with local leaders of the African tribes.

''There used to be forests here, antelopes, even sometimes elephants,'' said Abdelnumin Adam, an African leader on the peace committee, pointing at the barren landscape.

Abdallah Durru, an Arab representative on the committee, said the Arabs agreed to pay for damage done to crops by their cattle because they realize they must live in harmony with the African farmers.

''We know that when the war ends, the government will leave us on our own,'' Durru said. ''If we can't share this land with our black neighbors, no one can live.''

For its part, Sudan's government says it has plans for a pilot project to spend $10 million to replant trees and build dams.

Conceding that amount is ''peanuts,'' Ismail al-Gizouli of the government's High Council for Environment and Natural Resources, said, ''We need the richer countries to realize desertification is the emergency and help us.''

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