Fear of violence is a daily reality for local people and the risk of attack on aid workers is increasing as the conflict intensifies in Darfur. Medair has 12 international staff based in the provincial capital, El Geneina, and 265 national staff. Last week, we had to evacuate one of our Sudanese doctors from a camp, after receiving reports of cattle raiding and armed militia walking around the town. The following day our field teams were confined to the base, as there were reports of 3,000 Janjaweed preparing for an attack in the north of the Province.
Protection of civilians is a key priority in the region. The African Union have begun deployment of 3,000 troops, however this is inadequate in an area the size of France, with a mobile and vulnerable population. One of the camps where Medair works is home to 35,000 displaced people. The camp is within a 'safe zone' protected by the police, however it remains dangerous to leave its confines. We met one woman who stated that "men cannot leave the camp, otherwise they will be killed". She was less open about what happens to women as they collect water or essential firewood. In the clinics where they are more open as they confide in Medair's female doctors, it is estimated that 8 out of 10 women are raped and sexually harassed on these trips.
Before Medair arrived, the only way of accessing water was to dig for it in the "wadi", the seasonal river bed. This water was dirty and contaminated, causing many health and hygiene problems. Medair has installed 31 water systems in villages and camps across West Darfur, providing easily accessible, clean and chlorinated water. Recently, Medair installed a fresh water supply in a camp hosting 27,000 displaced people. However 10 days ago the well was sabotaged as the water was contaminated with a substance like black ink, making the water undrinkable. These acts of sabotage are regarded as an ongoing strategy of harassment against the displaced.
Miriam, 30, is one example of what many beneficiaries go through. Ten months ago, she grabbed her children and fled when the Janjaweed arrived on horseback to burn down her village. Her husband travelled to Libya 4 years ago to find work and she hasn't seen him since. She is looking after her 5 children alone and has no hope that her situation will improve. However, thanks to Medair's assistance in her camp, she has a health clinic 20 metres from her straw hut, a water point pumping fresh water up from the ground, and all the materials to construct a simple pit latrine for her family.
West Darfur has traditionally been a forgotten and marginalised region of Sudan. This was the reason Medair started a project there in 2001, to provide basic primary healthcare to remote towns and villages throughout the Province. Medair was the only international aid agency in Darfur until the civil war ignited in February 2003. Over the summer, we have dramatically ramped-up our response to the humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the support of private and institutional donors, we are now running a major relief programme, providing primary healthcare, clean water and improved sanitation to over 200,000 people.
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