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Frontline Diary

May 2006: As situation worsens, funds needed to protect Darfur’s children

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Grey
Children playing at a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Sudan’s Darfur region.
By James Gray

UNICEF Child Protection Officer James Gray has spent the past year and a half in Darfur. In this Frontline Diary he offers impressions of the deteriorating situation there.

WEST DARFUR, Sudan, May 2006 – At this time of year in Darfur, the temperature rises sharply and in the late afternoon a haboob (dust storm) will tear through the desert, whipping up the sand and obliterating the sun, turning everything a hazy yellow and reducing visibility to just a few metres. 

In the camps for people displaced by the conflict here, there’s little protection against the elements. A few sticks and plastic sheeting keep out the sun but not the relentless heat and dust. It is a miserable life, and it’s getting worse:

  • Villages continue to be attacked, and more than 200,000 people have been newly displaced over the last few months
  • Large areas of Darfur are inaccessible to humanitarian organizations
  • Malnutrition is becoming more common
  • Food rations have been cut in half due to a chronic lack of funding faced by many UN agencies and other aid organizations.

At a time when there is an even greater need for humanitarian help, many organizations have been forced to reduce their operations. Children suffer the most. UNICEF urgently needs funds to continue providing life-saving services – and protection and education – to the children of Darfur.

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/Grey
A young boy from an internally displaced family in Darfur plays on a swing.
More protection, not less

Until recently, we were able to reach large parts of the region. Children were attending schools in record numbers and their health was improving. Displaced people had access to water and sanitation facilities. 

We now face a new challenge, and one with serious consequences: The lack of funding means that UNICEF will have to cut our services in Darfur.  Children – who are the most vulnerable to illness, abuse and violence – will feel the full effect. 

More than 150,000 children in Darfur attend UNICEF-supported child-friendly spaces, where they receive support to help them to come to terms with very distressing experiences.  Many of these children have seen their family members raped or killed and have been victims of violence themselves.  All have been forced to flee their homes and villages, and now live in camps. 

This is no life for children. But the child-friendly spaces provide an opportunity for children to interact, play and build their self-confidence. 

Without funding, the number of children UNICEF can help will be drastically reduced.  At a time when more newly displaced people are arriving in the camps, when violence continues at an alarming rate, when there is an increase in reports of children being recruited for militias, we need more protection for children, not less.



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