Return to Darfur – a blog by Caritas' Senior Humanitarian Programmes Coordinator Mark Mitchell
Darfur has dropped out of the headlines but the situation continues to be one of ongoing internal conflict over limited access to resources. Children are born with the label of Internally Displaced Person (IDP), not knowing their homeland. Many have lived in a camp for over ten years and have no idea when they will ever leave. Some have only just arrived carried on their mother's backs.
I met Ikhlas Abdul Muneer in a new area of Hassa Hisa camp. She arrived about two months ago with her four children in a group of more than 70 women and children. Very few men were with them. They had walked for four days from Golo, an area in the rebel held area of Jebel Marra to find sanctuary in the IDP camp near Zalingei, Central Darfur. Ikhlas explained that "attackers took all their things ... Some of the men died and others; they don't know what happened to them". They will join the other 67,000 already in the camp and will receive emergency relief supplies and a one-off ration of food from the UN World Food Programme.
It is nearly eleven years since I was last in Darfur with Caritas. I wasn't sure what I was going to see on my return. Many of the international humanitarian organisations have left for a variety of reasons, including security or because the Government has not renewed their permits to operate. Caritas continues to work in a joint partnership with the ACT Alliance under the banner of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) who have been operating in Sudan since 1971. It has been a successful partnership and one that has brought help and hope to the affected communities. The programme provides basic needs in the form of water, health, shelter and nutrition.
Much of the IDP camps now look reasonably permanent. Projects are established that ensure drinking water reaches every part of the camps, providing more than the minimum standards required. Toilet facilities are available for every family in the camp. Clinics have also been established that provide primary health care particularly for mothers and children. Additional nutritional support is available to malnourished children. Recently, a new type of 'supacereal' was introduced which makes for a quicker recovery and mothers are shown how to cook the beans and cereals to enable them to get the most nutritional benefit.
Sitting under a water tower in Bilel camp in Nyala, the only shade available, I met with a group of women who had formed a committee. It is through groups such as this that the NCA team hear from the community. In any relief situation it is important to ensure that we are accountable to the communities we serve. When I asked them what their needs were I was interested to hear that they want assistance with livelihoods. They had already started selling vegetables and had established a waste management committee as well as other services to their own communities. Now they want more basic business training and access to a computer.
In the Hassa Hisa camp the needs are still more basic and they prioritise the need for food and access to more water and health services. Even here though, NCA is focussing more on improving livelihoods. Many of the communities have come from rural areas and are used to growing their own food. Land is at a premium in the camps, and plots of land for growing staples such as sorghum and millet is not available. Land is being made available outside the camp for farming but the women are fearful of going too far away from the camps due to the insecurity. Families are being encouraged to establish household plots where they can grow fresh vegetables such as rocket and radishes.
The focus on livelihoods is not only an encouraging sign of self-reliance; it is also a necessity for Darfur. The Government have pushed for 'Sudanisation' – that relief programmes are run by Sudanese, rather than international organisations. To facilitate this, a key focus of the NCA programme is capacity building of local partners. Much of the programme is being implemented by them, which is good practise, however there is a greater need than they alone are able to provide. Funding for humanitarian programmes is decreasing and NGOs and UN agencies are being forced to reduce the scope of their intervention. NCA are being forced to close down their programme in Eastern Darfur this year as funds become scarce. The annual budget has decreased by more than half since 2004. There is a lot of concern in the community about what will happen when the money runs out.
However, there is hope for Darfur. In time, people like Ikhlas hope they will be able to build and to start a new life for themselves in the camp. With support for livelihoods, she hopes to be able to create a job for herself and provide a living to support her family. But there is one thing that everyone agrees on. One word is everyone's mind. It is their greatest need and it is for just one thing ... salaam, peace.