Sudan: Old crisis, new challenges in Darfur

20 May 2013

May 2013, El Sereif, Darfur: Women collect water in El Sereif, North Darfur. Darfur has been in a state of crisis for 10 years, but the condition of camps set up to support people displaced has been deteriorating. Photo: UNAMID
A shrinking humanitarian community in Darfur means that hundreds of thousands of people living in camps are not receiving enough support.

United Nations Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos is visiting Sudan from 20 to 23 May 2013. She will visit the region of Darfur where a shrinking humanitarian community has led to deteriorating services for hundreds of thousands of people living in camps.

Darfur has been in a state of crisis for ten years, and the numbers of people affected have grown steadily during that time. There are now 1.4 million people receiving humanitarian assistance in nearly 100 displacement camps across Darfur.

Since the beginning of 2013, more than 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Many of these people are now seeking shelter alongside others who have been living in the camps for almost a decade.

However, over the past ten years, conditions in many camps have deteriorated as the number of organizations with expertise in delivering basic services to people living in camps has decreased.

Many of the organizations with experience of managing camps have stopped operating in Darfur, either because of a lack of funding or because of the bureaucratic impediments that make working in the region extremely complicated. As a result, people in many camps are living in desperately poor conditions.

“Coming to the camps saved my life”

Over the past six weeks, more than 10,000 people have been registered in Kalma camp, just outside Nyala, the capital of South Sudan. Kalma was already home to an estimated 82,000 people, many of whom had been living there for years.

Hawa, a mother of three, arrived in Kalma a couple of weeks ago having fled fighting in the Labado area of East Darfur. She quickly received a tarpaulin, blanket and jerry can. But she says that she is yet to receive her food ration and still does not have access to a latrine. “All of our possessions were destroyed during the fighting,” Hawa said. “Although we have not received all the assistance expected, coming to the camps saved my life.”

Hafsatu, a Kalma camp resident since 2004, says that services in the camp are much worse than they used to be. “Getting water used to be easier,” she says. “There was a motorized borehole where we would wait for half an hour to get our daily water supply.

“Now it takes me and my children up to four hours to get water. Since the humanitarian agencies left, there just hasn’t been the number of working water pumps that there used to be and there are now many more people in the camp.” 

Services in Kalma camp have been deteriorating since 2009 when the government expelled a number of key humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Rethinking the humanitarian approach

OCHA’s Head of Office in Sudan Mark Cutts, says that humanitarian agencies need to reconsider how they support communities in Darfur.

“The humanitarian community needs to think about how it can strengthen its capacity to meet the urgent needs of these people (in Kalma) and the more than1 million others like them throughout Darfur,” said Mr. Cutts. “Our focus should shift where possible to building resilience among those affected by the conflict.”

Mr. Cutts gave the example of how some NGOs had successfully used cash-for-work programmes to simultaneously build much needed infrastructure, provide people with incomes and help repair fractures between different groups in the region.