Diary 01 - Abu Shouk camp, El Fasher
The drive to Abu Shouk camp takes under 15 minutes from Oxfam's office in El Fasher. Before leaving town glimpses of the camp, home to over 56,000 people, can be seen through gaps between buildings.
What hits you first as you enter the camp is a feeling of permanency. It feels like a town. People have built walls around their shelters, and many plastic shelters have been remade with bricks. Erected in rows, at the end of each row is a street name...N15...N9...W2. This feeling that it's going to be a long stay is confirmed again and again...'We have no ray of hope of returning home.' Abu Shouk camp opened 3 years ago this month...it's an unhappy anniversary.
Before entering the camp we see large, brown pyramid-like structures...as we pass closer we see these are for baking bricks. As people settle in for the long haul, brick-making has become increasingly common-place and one of the few livelihoods available to the people at the camp. It's estimated that 30% of households in Abu Shouk are involved in brick making and it takes around one litre of water to make one brick.
This enormous extra demand for water is placing huge strain on scarce natural resources, and depleting the amount available for drinking and domestic use. The Oxfam team in Abu Shouk is working to try and promote brick-making projects that use less precious water and are more environmentally sustainable. The management of water has become an enormous challenge - a natural resource quickly diminishing.
Abu Shouk means small spiky animal.... but the basic needs of an increasing displaced population, the desperate need to earn a living and the impact on natural resources are anything but small.
Diary 02 - Kebkabiya
Flying down to Kebkabiya due west of El Fasher. What used to be a six-hour drive by car is forty-five minutes by helicopter. The roads are now too unsafe to travel by. Hijackings are virtually a daily occurrence. Visibility is difficult...it seems like the 'Haboub' (wind with dust) has arrived. As we get closer to Kebkabiya visibility improves.
First we drop off our bags at the Oxfam house, where we coincide with the water delivery. Because there's no running water supply, water is being delivered by donkey cart.
The situation in Kebkabiya is quite different to El Fasher. Here Oxfam is working in the town but also, apart from MSF running some clinics, Oxfam is the only organisation working in the rural areas. It's good to get out of the town and visit some of the villages. With 2 million people having fled to the towns and camps, the needs of people who've remained in their villages are often overlooked. We meet women at the hand pumps collecting water. Before they had to go quite a distance to a 'wadi' (a seasonally dry river bed), but now there are hand pumps next to the village. Others are cleaning up the village.
Security continues to be the main challenge here. Though things on the surface seem calm we are all aware of how fragile and volatile the situation is. Oxfam is regularly unable to get to villages like this because it is too dangerous. One of the women, Kaltom, has recently come back from Kebkabiya. 'When this conflict happened I went to the town. I was very happy to return home.' Unfortunately for most of the 2 million others who fled their homes, going back is still an impossible dream.
Diary 03 - Shangil Tobai
The first thing I see when I wake up this morning is an Oxfam vehicle. Too hot and stuffy in our rooms, we've moved our beds outside. But by early morning it gets quite cold and a warm blanket is needed. People are telling me that one of the differences between living in the camps and their homes is the heat...as well as the congestion, the water, food and firewood situation, the lack of being able to earn a living, and security.
Yesterday we flew down to Shangil Tobai, around 65-70 km from El Fasher. There and back in a day on the once a week helicopter, together with teams from other agencies. A year ago it was a fairly safe drive... but now the road is too dangerous. In Shangil Tobai there are two camps - Shangil Tobai & Shaddat... I spent most of the time talking with children. I ask one boy what message he would like to send back to boys his age in the UK - 'To be good children, to help keep things clean, to concentrate on your education and to work at sport, especially football.' Mahmoud is 14. I'm struck by the fact that at 14 he still sees himself as a child...and despite all the traumatic things he's probably seen in his short life.
In Shaddat I meet a group of boys and girls from Oxfam's children's group. We spend a lot of time talking about their lives. When I ask them what they think life is like in the UK the first thing they say is, 'Life there is very different because there is peace. Not like here, where there is a lot of conflict and fighting, and we are very scared.'
Arriving back in El Fasher we hear the news that another aid agency vehicle has just been hijacked and taken in the town centre. In the evening someone from one of the UN agencies talks about the number of new people still arriving at the already overcrowded and 'closed' camps on the edge of town. The need for another camp is becoming very clear.
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