In early January, conflict broke out between two Arab tribes, the Rizeigat and Bani Hussein, over who should be allowed to use a mine near Kabkabiya in the Jebel Amir area. Half a million artisan miners have joined a gold rush across Sudan, according to the government, which estimates it made $2.5 billion from gold exports last year.
The latest violence left more than 100 people dead and forced some 100,000 to flee their homes in what aid agencies say is the largest displacement in recent years inside Sudan's troubled western region of Darfur. The United Nations said in mid-January it was alarmed by confirmed reports of killings of civilians, as well as the burning of more than three dozen villages.
El Fateh Osman, Oxfam's Sudan country director, told AlertNet the fighting had now calmed down and tribal leaders had met to discuss the situation. "But I don't see that the root causes have been addressed yet," he said. "People are not going home because the security risks are high and they think it is better to stay where they are."
Hamouda Kanu, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator for North Darfur, said people were "in a panic and very fearful of more violence". "Those who have been able to flee are not sure when they will be able to return to their home areas, many of which have been destroyed in the fighting,” he added.
In a recent bulletin, the United Nations said ongoing insecurity and a rise in criminality against unescorted commercial trucks and local populations, including livestock looting, had led to a new wave of displacement to Kabkabiya.
Oxfam said in a press statement that it was concerned the tensions could spread more widely, causing further displacement.
Osman called for better access to the town of El Sireaf, in particular, where some 10,000 households - around 40,000 to 60,000 people - are sheltering after abandoning surrounding villages. "We need key roads to be opened and for the authorities to allow a full assessment of the humanitarian needs," he said.
Oxfam is sending teams to El Sireaf to ease severe shortages of clean water and sanitation, and plans to build 200 toilets there. In partnership with a local charity, it has trucked in clean water and provided additional latrines for a large proportion of the estimated 1,800 households that fled to Kabkabiya town. But not all humanitarian needs in the Jebel Amir area are being met.
"(People) have inadequate shelter for this colder time of year and are forced to defecate in the open. This could lead to the spread of disease," Kanu warned.
The areas affected by the fighting could also experience food shortages as many fields of crops were burned, Oxfam said. Last year’s poor harvests in North Darfur have left people vulnerable, it added.
A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told AlertNet from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, that the agency had been working with the Sudanese Red Crescent to repair boreholes and set up water points in the Jebel Amir area, but it was still completing assessments of what aid is needed and negotiating with the government to deliver it.
Last week, the International Organisation for Migration said it was working with authorities in Chad to provide emergency assistance, including transport, to more than 1,500 Chadian gold miners who had crossed back over the border from Darfur to escape the violence.
"Many of the returning Chadian migrant workers lost all their possessions and had their money stolen during the fighting and resulting displacement in the Jebel Amir area,” said Qasim Sufi, IOM's chief of mission in Chad. "Without the means to buy a bus ticket home, many remain stranded in remote and inhospitable areas."
Separate clashes between rebels and the Sudanese army in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur have uprooted an additional 30,000 people, and the government has warned aid agencies that the number could rise, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The deployment of the world's largest peacekeeping force, UNAMID, has failed to stop violence across Darfur where mostly non-Arab insurgents took up arms in 2003 to fight against what they call the neglect of the region by the Arab-dominated government. Fighting between rebels and government forces has recently picked up and banditry has also spread. Nearly 1.5 million people living in camps in the region rely on food aid to survive.
Oxfam's Osman said it was getting harder to obtain funding for operations in Darfur, as donors dig deep to support the aid response to the combined conflict and hunger crisis in Mali.
“The world has moved on from this entrenched conflict (in Darfur) and humanitarian work is already severely under-funded. We are struggling to meet already existing needs even as more are pushed into crisis,” he said. “This conflict in Darfur is now 10 years old and we need to see a renewed effort to bring about stability and peace in this devastated area.”