Thousands of Displaced Sudanese Still Await Help from the World

In two recently released reports made by ACT, the global alliance of churches detailed the current strife of the tens of thousands internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Darfur.
( [email protected] ) Aug 24, 2004 11:18 AM EDT

After fleeing attacks on their villages, around 5,000 families—nearly 20,000 individuals—are said to be residing on the dry desert land of Otash, a few miles outside Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. “Now they are waiting for help from the outside world,” reported Geneva-based Action by Churches Together (ACT) Internatioanl. In two recently released reports made by ACT, the global alliance of churches detailed the current strife of the tens of thousands internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“The psychological wounds of the violence the Darfur IDPs have encountered could take a generation to heal,” ACT reported.

Horror stories about villages being attacked, children being burned alive, young girls being raped and boys being abducted, have supported the claim that the crisis in South Darfur is “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

“On their faces, painfully visible, grief, fear and hardships are etched,” reported ACT.

“We are living like animals, our lives are destroyed,” said Abdall Karim, one of the many IDPs who have fled in a desperate attempt to survive what has up until now claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.

“They killed several members of our family,” Abdall said with his eyes filled with tears. “First came the gunships, then Janjaweed came on horses and camels.”

The International Organization for Migration estimates that 1.2 million have fled their homes in Darfur. In South Darfur alone, there are more than 320,000 IDPs, according to U.N. estimates.

ACT reported that only a few of the IDPs in and around Nyala can afford to go to the state hospital, and humanitarian aid organizations are trying to keep up with the constant flow of new arrivals. ACT is currently working with Caritas, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief development and social service organizations, to respond to the emergency in Darfur.

Members of the hospital staff say that malnourished children come from the camps surrounding Nyala. Some patients are suffering from hepatitis E, an illness plaguing the camps. For those with this disease, the mortality rate is currently 80 percent.

“I am trying to feed Mohammed several times a day, but he has yet to improve,” said one mother as she cradled her son in her arms.

Most of the children in the hospital ward are too weak to respond, reported ACT. “Their mothers’ despair is like a fog in the blue room. Being a mother and being unable to feed your children, watching your little ones fade away in slow starvation, is an awful feeling for these women,” wrote Hege Opseth, the Information Officer for ACT/Caritas.

Aid workers also report that some children are too traumatized to be able to eat. “But some have walked far on the path toward life and show careful smiles, a sign of hope in the fog of desperation in the ward,” commented Opseth.

“In Otash camp, moans of children can be heard. IDPs beg to see their relatives. They want to share their story, to tell the world about their suffering,” Opseth added. 76 children have been buried in the desert land of Otash in the past three months.

“This is not what life was supposed to be,” said Asha Hasaballah, and elderly woman who hopes her grandchildren some day will be able to return to life as they once new it. She hopes that their future will be on their ancestors’ land, not in a camp for displaced people, trapped in fear of new attacks and worries about survivial.

In established camps, many young girls and women are still afraid to walk long distances to collect firewood or water. Rapes and sexual abuse reportedly occur frequently inside and outside camps.

“We can’t go home – they will kill us. But what sort of life is it to stay here?” asked Abdall and his wife Gadija. They want the outside world to know about the atrocities, to picture their faces and to hear their cries.

Currently, ACT/Caritas has a team of 15 nationalities working in the field in Darfur. The goal is to assist 500,000 people in the next 18 months. ACT/Caritas is, among other things, distributing non-food items and supplying clean water and sanitation. A special team of health advisers is providing medicine, nutritional advice and is working to reach the most vulnerable like Mohammed and Moutasium. The ACT/Caritas health team also participated in the rapid assessment of needs at the hospital.

The United Nations and other non-governmental organizations are also working hard to meet the needs of new arrivals.