Sudan: Diary 04 to 05 from Darfur

Originally published
Oxfam's Jane Beesley is currently visiting Darfur for the first time. She is keeping a diary of her experiences and impressions on the trip. Her second week was spent in South and West Darfur...

Diary 04 - Kalma camp, South Darfur

Now in South Darfur. The drive to Kalma camp, one of Darfur's largest and most well known with nearly 100,000 people, and one of five camps near the town of Nyala, takes just over 25 minutes. On route we have to pass through several checkpoints where we have our travel documents checked.

The scene as we approach the camp is remarkable. Intensive brick making has created a dark and pitted landscape. Some pits are now so deep they nearly swallow the people working within them. Large, neat mounds of wood, consisting of both large mature and small young logs, give way to the heat and the smoke of the charcoal makers. Once again we see that - as the conflict drags on and the camps become more permanent - people living in them seem to have little opportunity for any kind of income, other than activities that deplete the already scarce surrounding natural resources.

Before leaving the office we have been given strict security guidelines.

There's frequent tension and insecurity in and around the camp. When walking around we haven't to be out of sight of the Oxfam vehicle...just in case we have to leave the camp quickly.

The most disturbing thing I see today is a pile of drawings from children, who Oxfam is working with as part of its public health work. As I leaf through the pile I notice that virtually all the children have drawn guns, people being shot, homes and villages in flames.

As we leave the camp the people I've been talking with point up to the sky...lots of clouds are gathering... 'The rains are on their way. We desperately need plastic sheeting. Our shelters won't withstand the coming rainy season.' When the rains come living conditions in the camps throughout Darfur will certainly be miserable. And the ingredients are already there for outbreaks of life threatening diseases like cholera and malaria. In the coming months people could face another emergency within an emergency. There is a very large cloud over the whole of Darfur.

Diary 05 - Um Dukhun, West Darfur

Another helicopter flight took us to the small town of Um Dukhun literally on the Chad-Sudan border. The weather is cooler, the sky is overcast but the humidity is high. In the 'garden' at the office-guesthouse there's a bunker left from the days when there were no solid walls, only a 'soft' fence...a place of safety for when there was shooting nearby.

In Um Dukhun there are refugees from Chad and the Central African Republic, as well as many people who have fled from their homes due to the conflict in Darfur. Oxfam's work here was recently suspended for nearly one month after an Oxfam vehicle was hijacked and stolen in one of the camps on the edge of town. This was just the latest in a series of serious incidents, and all the aid agencies withdrew from Um Dukhun and have only just returned. Unfortunately access to the rural villages around Um Dukhun, where the needs are actually highest of all, is still too dangerous.

I've spent most of the day meeting donkeys. Oxfam's distributed over 500 donkeys to people living in the camps, town and villages. I've met 'Helicopter', 'Landrover', 'Rocket', 'Small', 'Fast' and many more. All female. All healthy and hardy. The security risks impact everything Oxfam does...we distribute female donkeys as their value is lower and they're therefore less likely to be stolen. The donkeys are being used for transport, to carry water, and material to build homes, as well as enabling many of their new owners to earn a living. And people aren't just pleased... they're proud of their donkeys. My Sudanese colleague is surprised that people are naming them. Later someone from another international aid agency says, about the donkeys, 'It's the best distribution I've ever seen.' - quite a compliment.

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