Report on interagency mission to Kebkabiya, Saraf Omra and Tawilla Administrative Units, 23-26 Feb & 4 Mar 2004


Written by and on behalf of the following United Nations agencies who participated in all or part of the assessment mission: OCHA, WFP, UNICEF, WHO and FAO
Each agency is responsible only for the parts of the report covering locations which the agency visited as part of the mission

1. Highlights

  • The main priority for the IDPs is protection, followed by food, health, and water/sanitation
  • Over 90% of the IDPs were women, children and elderly people
  • Displacement as a result of Janjaweed attacks was still continuing into Kebkabiya and Saraf Omra towns as well as away from the Tawilla area
  • The areas visited have a total IDP population of about 76,000 plus about 35,000 affected town residents


The Mission consisted initially of three UN agencies, OCHA, WFP and FAO, and one national NGO, the Sudanese Red Crescent (SRC), departing from El Fasher town on 23 February for Kebkabiya, Birkat Saira, Saraf Omra and Tawilla towns. UNICEF, together with representatives of the Federal Ministry of Health and WES (the State water and sanitation agency which is supported by UNICEF), joined the mission on 24 February in Kebkabiya. OCHA, FAO, WFP and UNICEF proceeded to Birkat Saira village and Saraf Omra town on 25 February and SRC returned to El Fasher on the same day. The remaining mission members returned to El Fasher town on 26 February. Following a Janjaweed attack on Tawilla town on 27 February, OCHA, WFP, UNICEF, WHO and SRC returned to reassess Tawilla town as well as the Tina, Um Brunga and Konjara IDP sites on 4 March.

The purpose of the mission was to conduct a rapid assessment of the affected populations by identifying their immediate needs in order to plan required humanitarian interventions. This was the first visit by humanitarian agencies following two and a half months of no access to the area. Due to time constraints, each agency focused on gathering certain types of information. WFP/SRC focused on IDP registration and planning for food deliveries, FAO on agricultural input requirements, UNICEF/MoH on child protection, health and education issues, while OCHA considered general aspects of the IDP situation including civilian protection issues.

Table 1: Resident population and IDPs in the locations visited

Administrative Unit
Resident pop.
Number of IDPs
Kebkabiya town
Kebkabiya Kebkabiya
Birkat Saira village
Saraf Omra Kebkabiya
Saraf Omra town
Saraf Omra Kebkabiya
Tawilla town
Tawilla El Fasher
Um Brunga village
Tawilla El Fasher
Konjara village
Tawilla El Fasher
Total affected (residents plus IDPs): 110,294 people

3. Main findings

3.1 Tawilla-Kebkabiya Road

All along the Tawilla-Kebkabiya road, about 100 kilometres mostly through Jebel Si Administrative Unit (AU), the mission observed nothing but burnt and abandoned villages and a large number of abandoned donkeys roaming around the water points (many baboons were also observed). The only exception were three persons met at Kawra village, half way between Tawilla and Kebkabiya towns, who had come to use the well there but did not reside in the village.

3.2 Kebkabiya town

Affected population: The first IDPs arrived in Kebkabiya town in July-August 2003 and a new influx of IDPs into the town started around mid-January 2004 and was still continuing at the time of the assessment. WFP/SRC had completed registration of IDPs and town residents in Kebkabiya town on 27 February and reported 45,057 IDPs and 16,848 town residents. The day following registration, an additional 14 new IDP families (about 80 people) arrived in Kebkabiya. According to the Kebkabiya Emergency Committees, a committee comprising representatives of IDPs, local government, SRC, women as well as local community leaders, some IDPs had managed to go back to their villages over the past few months based on local arrangements with Janjaweed leaders.

Over 90% of the IDPs were coming from Jebel Si administrative unit (AU), which is now completely abandoned. The total Jebel Si population was estimated at about 70,000 persons living in over 119 village councils. Other IDPs came from rural areas of Kebkabiya, Saraf Omra, El Serif and Fata Borno administrative units. The IDPs in Kebkabiya town are mainly from the Fur and Zaghawa tribes. Over 90% of the IDPs are women, children and elderly people. According to the IDPs, men were either not present when the attack took place (because of engaging in casual labour in larger towns, etc.), killed during the attack, or escaped just prior to the attack.

Food/nutrition: The nutritional situation of the IDPs did not appear to be critical and no signs of severe malnutrition were observed. Coping mechanisms included engaging in casual labour including in the fields, sharing with relatives in town, and begging (mainly children). Daily wages for casual labour was reported as about 200 SD per day. Town residents were reportedly close to having consumed their food stocks and there was no more food to be harvested from the fields. Thus, the current coping mechanisms are not sustainable for much longer.

Shelter, NFIs: Following attacks on the two IDP camps in Kebkabiya by Janjaweed in December 2003, the camps were completely abandoned and now almost all IDPs were living in the houses of their relatives. In one house (20x20 metres) the mission counted no less than 27 families. Most of the IDPs came empty-handed, as they were stripped of all their valuable assets and their houses burnt to the ground.

Water/sanitation: Safe drinking water is available from nine new hand pumps constructed by WES and two ICRC pump-driven shallow wells, one of which was under-utilized due to insecurity at the site. ICRC has since our visit been establishing an additional well at a more secure site.

There are a very small number of pit latrines or other sanitation facilities available, which poses a risk of diarrhoea outbreaks as the temperatures start to rise during the next few months. This could substantially increase the mortality among vulnerable IDPs and hosting communities.

Health: The mission observed no marked deterioration of the health status of the host and IDP communities, with the prevailing diseases among children under five (the most vulnerable population) including malaria, eye infection, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections. This picture may change dramatically during the coming months when the temperatures start to rise and the number of flies multiplies, rendering the IDP communities susceptible to summer outbreaks of dysentery, diarrhoea and infective hepatitis.

There is one functioning hospital in Kebkabiya town, which is the only health facility available. The hospital has one doctor and 10 medical assistants. There has been a marked shortage of drugs over the past eight months. Health personnel had been providing drugs and medical treatment against payment, which excluded many vulnerable people who were unable to pay from receiving assistance.

Education: There are six functioning schools in Kebkabiya town. However, school fees are required for IDP children in order to attend school, and as a result only 154 IDP children are currently attending school. In Kebkabiya locality, the only functioning schools are located in Kebkabiya, Birkat Saira and Saraf Omra towns, except for six nomadic schools which are also functioning. All schools in the rural areas, 43 in total, are either deserted or destroyed. UNICEF has supplied the Ministry of Education with 36 blackboards, 16 pupils kits, 18 classroom kits and three teachers' kits to be distributed to the IDP and nomad children in Kebkabiya locality.

Agriculture: As a result of the conflict, it is estimated that agricultural production in Kebkabiya and Jebel Si administrative units has been reduced by 60% and 90% respectively. Millet-based rain-fed farming is mostly practiced in Jebel Si, and is in Kebkabiya supplemented by irrigated agriculture. Main irrigated crops are broad beans, onion and potatoes, in addition to citrus, mangos and guava. Damaging and looting of irrigation pumps, as well as partial or complete damage of orchards has affected the irrigated sector. With the exception of farms along the Wadi Barei area to the west of Kebkabiya where the security situation is relatively good, the majority of the farms North and North West of Kebkabiya are currently abandoned. Fruit production is expected to be reduced by 60%.

According to local residents and IDPs as well as the agricultural department and the Kebkabiya Smallholders Charitable Society (KSCS), the following has been destroyed or looted as a result of the conflict: (a) over 150 crop irrigation and 27 animal pumps; (b) 7,820 fruit trees; (c) 60 feddans (1 feddan = 4200 square metres) of broad beans; (d) 1500 heads of goats distributed to poor/female headed households with support from KSCS; (e) 45 insecticide sprayers; and (f) 450 pieces of different hand tools. In addition, 48 KSCS-supported women cooperatives have been looted and 35 shallow wells destroyed.

Protection: IDPs reported that their displacement was due to attacks by Janjaweed/Peshmarga (Arab militia) and that their main concern now was the issue of protection. According to a local SRC member, about 500 plastic sheets as well other non-food items were looted from the IDPs during the December 2003 Janjaweed attack on the two IDP camps, which were subsequently abandoned. Other, smaller attacks by Janjaweed have also been reported. IDPs have reported that they cannot walk beyond 1-2 kilometres out of town to collect firewood. As a result, women have started cutting green tree branches and are drying them to make fire for cooking. Town residents also expressed a need for protection; Fur and Zaghawa shops were specifically targeted when the market was attacked on 18-19 December by Janjaweed.

The displacement has led to a large number of cases of separated children as well as the separation of husbands and wifes. A total of 24 separated children were identified in Kebkabiya town who were directly looked after by the Commissioner. After lengthy discussion, the Commissioner agreed to allow them to be reunified with their families or relatives through the facilitation of the Women Development Group of Kebkabiya.

3.3 Villages on the Kebkabiya-Birkat Saira road

All the way from Kebkabiya town to Birkat Seira town, which lies in Saraf Omra Administrative Unit about 75 km from Kebkabiya town, more than 100 armed Janjaweed on camels and horses were observed following the main road heading to Kebkabiya. They did not in any way appear threatening to the mission and gave way to the vehicle convoy whenever it was necessary to pass them. We also noticed three villages (Firil, Lagy and El Madina El Islamia) completely burnt and abandoned, while other villages (Tanabik, Girgo, Kogorma and Singir) were intact. According to villagers in the area, all of the burnt villages belong to non-Arab tribes. We noticed that there was a checkpoint at each of the still intact non-Arab villages manned by 1-2 armed men from Arab tribes.

3.4 Birkat Saira village

Affected Population: According to local leaders, there are about 6,000 IDPs and 3,000 residents in the town. The IDPs are from villages around Birkat Saira village and mostly arrived in July/August 2003, while some managed to go back to their villages based on local arrangements with the Janjaweed leaders (see protection below).

Food/nutrition: The food security situation appeared to be better in Birkat Saira as compared to Kebkabiya, although the coping mechanisms also here were not sustainable. Coping mechanisms include cutting and selling wood and grass as well as farm labour. Daily wages were reported at 150 to 250 SD. All IDPs were living with relatives in town who shared their limited food supplies with the IDPs.

Shelter/NFIs: The IDPs were living with their relatives and seemed less affected than the IDPs in Kebkabiya. One resident told the mission that six families (about 100 individuals) currently were residing in his house. In some compounds, additional annexes had been constructed using local materials. No shelter/NFI materials have so far been provided to the IDPs.

Water/sanitation: The IDPs and their hosting communities use unsafe drinking water from open hand dug wells.

Health: The local health facility (one dispensary with two medical assistants, one nurse, three community health workers and four midwifes) is still functioning, but there were no free drugs available, although some could be purchased privately but at costs that were too high for IDPs to afford. UNICEF during the mission provided one basic drug kit to the health facility, enough for about one month needs. Last vaccines were provided in August 2003 but only in the town.

Education: There are two functioning schools in the town with enrolment of about 500 boys and 300 girls. Some IDP children attend school in Birkat Seira town. However, many students in the rural areas are not attending school since the rural schools have stopped functioning.

Protection: We had a meeting with a group of people at the residence of the Deputy Omda (Birkat Saira community leader). Their main concern was the total lack of law and order in their area since July 2003. Following intensification of looting and burning of villages by Janjaweed, the Omda made an agreement with Arab nomadic leaders in the area for peaceful co-existence between the Arabs and the non-Arab tribes in the area (Fur, Tama, Gimir, Zaghawa and Tungur). The agreement was based on payments by the town residents to the Janjaweed amounting to 1.8 million SD (app. US$ 7,000) since August 2003 according to the Deputy Omda who had kept account of the payments made by the town residents so far. Two residents told the mission that they individually had paid 85,000 SD ($326) and 25,000 SD ($96) to the Janjaweed, respectively. Despite this agreement, looting of assets, destruction of agricultural production inputs (e.g. irrigation pumps), detention and forced displacement continued on an individual basis. The Omda has complained to the leader of the Janjaweed but without result so far.

The Omda and the elders told the mission that no assistance should be distributed under the present situation since it would be looted afterwards.

Agriculture and farming input: See Saraf Omra below.

3.5 Saraf Omra town

Affected Population: According to WFP/SRC registration figures obtained in the days following the mission, Saraf Omra town has 12,199 IDPs and an additional 13,490 affected residents. Local authorities estimated the number of IDPs at 49,000 during the mission, which turned out to be highly exaggerated. Most of the IDPs came from neighbouring West Darfur starting in July/August 2003 and are from the Fur and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

Transport: Although it takes longer to travel, the Saraf Omra-Nyala road was reported as safer than either the Saraf Omra-Kebkabiya or the Saraf Omra Geneina roads. As a result, diesel prices were lower in Saraf Omra than in Kebkabiya, although the supply was limited.

Food/nutrition: Although the IDPs were in a reasonable shape, with no cases of severe malnutrition observed, it was clear that the current coping mechanisms were stretched to their limits and that urgent food assistance was required.

Shelter/NFIs: The IDPs were living with relatives in their houses with an average of 5-10 families in one house, while others had constructed make-shift shelters in empty spaces or in the immediate outskirts of the town.

Water/sanitation: The IDPs and their hosting communities use unsafe drinking water from open hand dug wells.

Health: There is one functioning dispensary in the town served by a medical assistant, four community health workers, one health visitor and 20 midwives. Drugs are provided by the health staff on a payment basis and there is no regular drug supply from the State Ministry of Health. There are also eight public health care units but they are not functioning.

Education: The nine schools in Saraf Omra town are still functioning and are also attended by some IDPs. Currently, 3,300 boys and 1,282 girls are enrolled in the schools. All schools in the rural areas of Saraf Omra, however, are currently closed due to insecurity.

Agriculture and farming input:Saraf Omra Administrative Unit is relatively less affected by the conflict compared with Kebkabiya and Jebel Si AUs. Out of a total of 18 affected village councils, people from nine village councils managed to go back and continue their farming activities. The total harvest obtained from both millet and sorghum ranged from 3 to 6 sacks per household compared with 36 to 45 sacks per household under normal situations. Very little harvest was obtained from cash crops, which are mainly groundnuts, okra, pepper and tomatoes. Out of 1,113 irrigation pumps in existence in early 2003, currently only about 250 pumps remain, the rest having been looted, damaged or sold by their owners at low prices due to insecurity. Harvest from the irrigated sector is estimated to have been only 50% of the normal level.

Protection: Some villagers are reported to have managed to return to their villages against monthly payments to the Janjaweed of 1,000 SD per family for staying in their villages and another 3,000 SD to continue farming their lands. Some of these families are, however, reportedly still suffering from continued looting of livestock and other assets. Insecurity and lack of law and order is reported as the main concern for the IDPs. A policeman stated that lack of resources prevents the police from guarding IDPs within the town from Janjaweed attacks.

3.6 Tawilla town

Tawilla town was first assessed by the inter-agency team on 26 February, on the way back from Kebkabiya. At that time, the team estimated that there were 14,000 residents and 9,000 IDPs in the town. However, the next morning, on 27 February at 6 a.m. the town was attacked by Janjaweed, displacing virtually the entire resident and IDP population. Following the attack, it was thus necessary to reassess the situation. WFP, OCHA, UNICEF, WHO and SRC conducted a reassessment mission to Tawilla town on 4 March and at that time also visited three other IDP sites within Tawilla Administrative Unit, namely Tina, Um Brunga, and Konjara (covered separately below).

Affected Population: In Tawilla town itself there are about 100-200 people during the day (mainly men), but nobody stays in town during the night, when everybody sleeps in the nearby wadi due to insecurity in the town. It is estimated that 6,000 IDPs are camping in the nearby wadi. Most of the current IDPs near the town are from recently attacked and burnt villages in the area.

Food/nutrition: There are no signs of severe malnutrition among the IDPs. The IDPs had on the day of our visit received four days food ration (cereals and sugar) from the Government, distributed through SRC. Other than that, since the town and the surrounding villages are deserted, there are no coping mechanisms such as casual labour, sharing with relatives, etc. WFP plans to follow up with registration and food distribution.

Shelter/NFIs: SRC has, on behalf of the State Food Security Committee, distributed 700 plastic sheets from UNICEF and SC-UK, 500 blankets provided by UNICEF, and a number of buckets and jerry cans provided by WES. These supplies were provided to the IDPs camping in the wadi near Tawilla town as well as to the IDPs in Um Brunga and Konjara villages.

Water/sanitation: There is a functioning open well in town, but it does not cover the needs for clean water. There is also a water pump system, which is intact but lacks diesel for the generator. In terms of sanitation, the main health hazard is the many carcasses of animals killed during the attack, which need to be removed from the town.

Health: There are currently no doctors or medical assistants in town. However, two nurses and two community health workers were identified among the IDPs. There is also one "farash" (a cleaner who can also dress wounds). The dispensary in town has been completely looted and is no longer functional, although the building remains in good condition. The dispensary used to serve 16 public health care units in rural areas of Tawilla AU. Since all drugs were looted during the attack, there is an urgent need for re-supply of drugs as well as medical personnel to distribute them. The mission brought back seven injured people who were unable to walk and needed urgent medical attention, six of which were men that had been injured by bullets.

Education: While the buildings of the eight basic schools in town remain in good condition, all school activities ceased following the attack.

Agriculture: The IDPs stated that their main concern in terms of agriculture was that 250 gardens in the Tina and Tibra areas were in danger of drying up due to lack of fuel for the generator to power the water pumps. Otherwise, the agricultural situation will have to be further assessed once the current looting and insecurity has stopped.

Protection: According to some of the few town residents remaining in town following the attack, 17 people had been killed in Tawilla town and 68 in the surroundings of the town. In addition, according to the town residents, over 100 women had been raped, of which six had been raped in front of their families, and about 150 women and 200 children had been abducted. It was not possible to verify these figures. According to the town residents, 20 unaccompanied minors remained in the town. Looting and insecurity is continuing, and even on the day of the reassessment, IDPs near the town reported on-going looting in the town. Although one week had passed since the initial attack, no police or military had been stationed in the town to restore security, although the Commissioner of El Waha (the nomads), whom the mission met in the town, stated that about 100 police personnel were on their way.

3.7 Tina town

WFP during the reassessment mission visited Tina town, about 20 minutes drive from Tawilla town, where SRC volunteers on 25 February had counted 5,680 IDPs (including in nearby Salablaba). The other members of the mission did not visit Tina town but met with WFP afterwards in Tawilla town. WFP found the area completely deserted and Tina village completely burnt. Many of the IDPs that the mission later met near Tawilla town as well as in Um Brunga and Konjara villages stated that they had fled the Tina area a few days earlier.

3.8 Um Brunga and Konjara villages

Location: Um Brunga village is located about 10 km East of Tawilla town along the road towards El Fasher town, while Konjara lies an additional 10 km East towards El Fasher.

Population: SRC volunteers on 25 February estimated 1,200 IDPs in Um Brunga village. During the reassessment mission on 4 March, the number of IDPs had grown to about 3,000, while about 1,000 people remained from the host community (down from 3,500).

According to the IDPs in Konjara village, the local resident population used to be 2,300 but was now zero since all inhabitants had left the town. The number of IDPs had on 25 February by SRC volunteers been estimated at 1,200 but was now, on 4 March, estimated at 3,500.

Food/nutrition: No signs of malnutrition were observed in either location, and the Government had provided a four-day food ration to the IDPs. WFP/SRC plan to conduct registration and food distribution.

Shelter/NFIs: See under shelter/NFIs for Tawilla town above.

Water/sanitation: There is one well in Um Brunga village and two handpumps in Konjara village, none of it enough to cover the needs.

Health: There was one health worker in Um Brunga village and two community health workers and one midwife in Konjara village. The health facility in Konjara had been damaged. In both places, there was an urgent need for drug supplies.

Education: The basic school building in Um Brunga was intact, but not functioning since the teachers had left the town. The two schools in Konjara were also not functioning, although the buildings were intact.

Protection: The IDPs of both Um Brunga and Konjara had reportedly been looted the night before our visit. On 29 February, eight people had, according to the IDPs, been killed in the Konjara area, while residents had been threatened not to bury the dead. In Konjara village, eight children were still missing as reported by the IDPs there. There was no police or military protection provided in either of the two locations.

4. Recommendations

Protection for both IDPs and town residents must urgently be provided in all the locations surveyed, especially those who were found to have no police force or other security measures in place such as Tawilla, Tina, Um Brunga and Konjara villages. Without improved protection, additional attacks against civilians can be expected to take place, IDPs will be unable to return to their villages, and any humanitarian assistance risks making IDPs and other affected people the targets of additional attacks aimed at looting these supplies.

Urgent food distribution is required for all affected people, while keeping in mind that any supplies could place the recipients at risk of further looting. Alternative means of providing food assistance in such areas must be considered (e.g. through supplementary feeding centres)

Additional interventions in the field of water supply and sanitation are urgently required to avoid outbreaks of disease as the temperatures start to rise. Additional NGOs with expertise in these sectors are urgently needed.

Regular free drug supply to IDPs by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with UNICEF is urgently needed. NGOs with expertise in the health sector are urgently needed to assist in the field of health.

The Ministry of Education and UNICEF should help ensure that IDP children are enrolled in the schools without having to pay school fees.

Existing community initiatives for reunifying children with their families should be supported in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and supplemented by ICRC/SRC registration and tracing assistance

Interventions in the agricultural sector are needed to allow IDPs to engage in some farming activities in their present locations and to prepare for any IDP return to their villages

5. Agency plans and interventions

The following tables provide an overview of current interventions and plans by humanitarian agencies in the main locations visited during the mission. It is clear from the tables that the current capacity of humanitarian agencies is far from sufficient to cover the needs. Since the primary responsibility for covering the needs lies with the Government of Sudan, it is hoped that humanitarian actors and the Government of Sudan in the spirit of partnership and cooperation will nevertheless be able to cover most of the urgent needs faced by those affected by the current conflict.

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