Situation 'desperate' for Al Salaam camp population, World Vision operations manager says, but team will continue to 'reach out and support new arrivals.'
July 11, 2007
A tearful Fatma Iss Issak, 37, describes the ordeal she and her family endured to arrive safely to the Al Salaam camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Darfur. The distraught mother of seven doesn't know where her husband or elderly mother are — not since heavily armed militia attacked and terrorized their village in South Darfur a week ago.
Fatma Isaa Isaak, 37, is frantic. She doesn't know where her husband or elderly mother are.
"We fled from Kadaat village, which is over 185 miles away, after armed people attacked us [a week ago]," she says, her voice shaking with emotion and her eyes filling with tears. "We were attacked very early in the morning and I saw several people killed, houses burnt and property being carried away.
"I do not know the whereabouts of my elderly mother, who may have been caught up in the attack."
She and her seven children have just arrived at the Al Salaam camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) atop a yellow, dusty truck carrying more than 100 hungry, thirsty villagers, and a chaotic array of household items.
A sharp increase in violent, repeated attacks on villages across South Darfur in recent weeks has forced growing numbers of terrorized families and children — many of whom have witnessed atrocities committed against their parents — to flee their homes in desperate search for safety. This has inundated temporary settlement camps like Al Salaam, and has pushed families and relief workers to the breaking point.
Safety's High Price
Surviving these attacks is just one among many dangerous odds to overcome. Though commercial trucks transport some of the displaced to the nearest camps, many have no money to pay the fare and are forced to walk for days — an extremely difficult and risky journey, especially for women and children. Families able to pay the fare also face hazardous travel, since armed men often attack the trucks that are typically loaded down with as many as 180 people.
Once they survive the dangerous expedition, they are then subject to the critical question of whether room exists for any new IDPs at the camp to which they've fled.
Except for Al Salaam, temporary camps in the region have reached capacity and are now closed to new arrivals
. Every camp suffers chronic food and water shortages, as well as unsanitary conditions, and many IDPs are living in makeshift shelters patched together with sticks, plastic sheeting and torn cloth. During the rainy season, these makeshift shelters leak like sieves.
"I am happy that World Vision has received us well ... but we need food, water, health services, and shelter since the rainy season is here with us," says Fatma.
'Bursting at the Seams'
A truck full of hungry and thirsty displaced villagers arrives at Al Salaam. A surge of new arrivals this week indicates an escalation of violence in the region. Al Salaam's population on June 14 topped 33,000, some 11,000 over capacity.
Though describing the Al Salaam situation as "desperate," Dr. Abraham Hadoto, a World Vision operations manager for South Darfur, says his team will continue reaching out and supporting the new arrivals.
As the violence escalates, however, there are fears that Al Salaam will become unable to accommodate further arrivals. Expanding beyond original capacity creates for camp workers the enormous challenge in an insecure environment of adding facilities — such as health, water and sanitation — to meet the needs of a swelling population that renders the original provisions inadequate.
Because of the recent influx of new IDPs, the camp's population reached the 33,000 mark on June 14, says Leonidace Andrew, World Vision's commodities officer for northern Sudan. Al Salaam's original capacity was set at 22,000.
To accommodate the huge influx of desperate humanity in South Darfur, World Vision has also increased its capacity to provide food at 36 distribution sites across the region.
But for tens of thousands of uprooted, terrorized South Darfur villagers, numbers and statistics mean little; many are in still in shock from the horrors they have experienced, including Fatma.
During the three days they traveled, most adults did not eat any food, she says. Children were given some food at a small market after some kind strangers sympathized with their plight.
Among those arriving with Fatma were 18 women with newborns younger than 1 month old. World Vision provided emergency rations to them because of their particularly desperate condition.
"I had to use secret routes to avoid the danger of meeting armed militia,
who would have killed all these passengers," says Abraham Adahi, the truck driver who transported Fatma, her fellow passengers, and their luggage belongings to Al Salaam.
World Vision Aid Efforts in Darfur
— a region about the size of Texas in western Sudan — a brutal three-year conflict between rebel groups and the government has driven more than 2 million people into temporary camps and killed more than 200,000. These tragic numbers of displaced people are rising quickly because of the sharp increase in violence across the region during recent weeks and months.
World Vision has provided humanitarian assistance to Darfur's war-weary children and adults since June 2004. We are continuing to provide general food distributions in Al Salaam and at other camps for displaced persons across South Darfur.
>> Read more
about Darfur's escalating violence.
Two Ways You Can Help
>> Please pray for Sudan's millions of displaced persons who are suffering, especially for children, who are the most vulnerable to the violence that continues to plague war-torn Darfur. Pray, too, for God's blessing on kind strangers — some with little themselves — who help displaced people on their journey to safety.
>> Provide food and supplies to help alleviate the suffering of Sudan's war-weary inhabitants.