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UNICEF Communications Officer Oliver Phillips' Eye-Witness Diary from Darfur
DARFUR, 15 June 2004 - Whether I was in Kass in southern Darfur or in the huge camps outside Al Genina in the West, the women seemed to outnumber the men. In each of the places we visited the groups of women who met us gave us the same chilling explanation. Their husbands were dead. They had been killed in the raids on their villages by Janjaweed militia.
Many of the women we spoke to had seen their husbands killed, had been raped and had fled their burnt out villages along with their children and what little possessions they could carry.
Despite the assurances of the Sudanese Government that the one million displaced people will soon return home, not a single person we spoke to said they had any intention of doing so. They were all clearly terrified of what might happen to them if they ventured outside their encampments. And besides, with their villages destroyed, they had no home to return to.
In fact it’s clear that the numbers of displaced people are still growing. Areas that had been open spaces only a week ago around the town of Kass are now filled with makeshift grass huts.
People are living in vast camps in their thousands in dire conditions that will only get worse once the rains arrive. UNICEF, other agencies and NGO’s are trying to provide basic life saving services; clean water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter and health care.
UNICEF is also providing basic education for thousands of children, many of whom have never been to school before. I saw classrooms with children who beamed with joy as they learnt, clearly happy to be in a place that felt safe. The devotion of teachers to give their children a foundation amid the trauma was inspiring.
While there’s progress in all these areas, much more needs to be done in an ever shrinking amount of time. People are not dying from diseases in great numbers yet, but they surely will if their basic situation is not improved. For this everyone has a role to play. UNICEF and other interveners are working hard, but have to work harder. The Sudanese Government should cut through any red tape slowing things down. The international community has to rise to the call for funds.
So far the world has committed only about one quarter of UNICEF’s appeal for forty million dollars. Today’s twenty four hour news environment forces us all to bear witness. No-one can pretend they didn’t know this was happening.
Voir le vidéo reportage (en anglais)