The situation in Darfur remains "very serious," according to Christian humanitarians working in Sudan's conflict-ridden region.
Although the level of violence appears to have subsided in many of the areas where they work, members of the Action by Churches Together network working in Darfur say there is still a widespread lack of security that discourages people from returning to their home areas.
This, they added, is manifested in the regular reports of banditry and carjackings, especially in rural areas.
"The joint UN-Africa Union force (UNAMID) has had difficulties in building up its capacity due to the logistical problems of the area, the high cost of operations and shortage of manpower," ACT reported, referring to the peacekeeping mission formally approved by the United Nations.
The NCA Darfur Program, a shared program supported by 60 member organizations of ACT and Caritas Internationalis, is therefore "operating in a very difficult humanitarian environment," the network added.
The ACT humanitarian program in Darfur, which began in 2004, is presently one of the largest humanitarian programs in South and West Darfur, with approximately 350,000 beneficiaries.
According to a U.N. estimate, some 2.7 million people from Darfur remain displaced from their homes and more than four million people remain directly affected by the conflict, both in Darfur and neighboring Chad. Many of these people have been living in temporary camps for up to six years, and are largely reliant on international aid programs in order to survive.
Despite this, 13 international NGOs were expelled from the region last year following the decision of the International Criminal Court to indict Sudan's president.
The move resulted in the loss of approximately 40 percent of humanitarian capacity – a "major shock" to humanitarian efforts as a whole in Darfur.
Despite this and the global financial situation, ACT and Caritas Internationalis are cautiously optimistic about 2010, the year in which Sudan will hold national and presidential elections.
"Looking back at 2009, it is quite clear that among the greatest achievements was the ability to fill some of the gaps in the aftermath of March expulsions of other international aid agencies," commented Caritas Internationalis Secretary-General Lesley-Anne Knight.
The elections, meanwhile, "will be a milestone in Sudan's political development, for better or for worse, which could impact on the situation in Darfur," ACT reported.
With the New Year now here, ACT and Caritas are appealing for over $10 million to support the NCA Darfur Program, the two main aims of which are to effectively deliver life-saving services to the internally displaced people and host population, and to build the capacity of the two national partner organizations.
"Caritas and its partners continue to help 350,000 people through this appeal," Knight noted.
"Over the next 12 months, there will be a continued focus on providing desperately needed aid as one of the biggest humanitarian organizations left operating in Darfur," she added.
As ACT noted, the NCA Darfur Program is recognized by the United Nations and other observers as an important element in the international relief program.