By Ulf Laessing
OUTSIDE EL FASHER, Sudan (Reuters) - About 300,000 people have fled their homes due to a surge in fighting in Sudan's Darfur region this year and are now living in terrible conditions and short of food, the United Nations aid chief said on Wednesday.
The figure is higher than the combined number of displaced people for the past three years. Violence is down from a peak in 2004-2005 but fighting between the army, rebels and rival tribes has increased significantly since January.
"Here in the hot sun in summer they've got almost nothing. They still have to walk for water," U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos said during a visit to an area outside El Fasher in North Darfur where 18,000 refugees live in tents.
Amos said relief agencies were doing their best to get supplies to people but were hampered by a lack of funds from donors.
"We are trying to bring you food as soon as possible," Amos told three mothers, who said they had arrived two weeks ago after fleeing from fighting in Labado, in eastern Darfur.
Newly displaced people begged Amos for help after she arrived in a convoy escorted by U.N. peacekeepers in armored vehicles.
"We only have little food left what we've been able to save from home," said a woman who gave her name as Aziza, sitting with her baby under a tent seeking shelter from the heat.
Conflict has raged through the western region of Darfur since 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of economic and political neglect. Khartoum armed Arab tribes to put down the insurgency.
Human rights groups and the United Nations estimate hundreds of thousands of people died in the conflict. The government says around 10,000 people were killed.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and some aides to face charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur. They deny the charges and refuse to recognize the court.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan)