Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 24/06/2004, pg. 21

A QUEENSLAND Red Cross aid worker was safely back home this week after experiencing the horror of Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

David Overlack of Goondiwindi, 300km southwest of Brisbane, said up to a million people had been forced from their homes in what was now the world’s worst disaster zone.

Gangs of armed militia fighters had burned homes and crops, forcing villagers to leave in search of food, water and shelter, he said.

The United Nations has warned that an estimated 350,000 people in Darfur could die before relief aid is delivered.

Aid agencies are working against time to deliver food stocks, shelter materials and medical teams.

The rainy season arrives at the end of this month and will make the region’s dirt roads impassable for up to two months.

An estimated 150,000 people have fled west into Chad where the Red Cross and its sister organisation the Sudanese Red Crescent Society are transferring people to seven UN refugee camps.

Mr Overlack, who has just returned from Africa, has described the situation as dire, as displaced people flee for their lives in 50C heat with no food, water or shelter from fierce sandstorms.

“The region of Darfur has seven million people and is the size of France. These people are scattered all over the place,” he said.

“There are groups of up to 30,000 people from villages unaccounted for.”

Mr Overlack, a specialist trauma nurse and medical administrator, was in Darfur for three months assessing medical needs and setting up medical teams in regional centres to treat war wounded and provide medical help to the sick.

He has worked for the International Red Cross in war-ravaged Afghanistan and Kashmir and countries devastated by earthquakes, floods and tidal waves for six years.

He said this disaster was heartbreaking as children died in overcrowded hospitals.

“This is the world’s worst disaster at the moment,” he said.

“There are 120 patients in 30-bed wards dying from malnutrition, measles and diarrhoea — all preventable diseases.

On the last day I was there I saw them take out two dead infants in an hour.

“If this was happening in Australia it would be unthinkable. It’s heartbreaking to see these kids die.”

The disaster has been triggered by Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, which have been attacking Africans.

In Australia, AusAID has donated $5 million in aid to Sudan, of which $2.5 million was given to the International Committee of the Red Cross for the relief operation.

Australian Red Cross has launched a Sudan Emergency Appeal to raise $1 million to support its work.

Copyright 2004 / Courier Mail