Camps swell as women and children flee fighting in south Darfur

UNICEF Image: Sudan: displaced children
© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Nguyen
Displaced children and families arrive at the Ottash Camp by lorry, on foot or by donkey carrying the few possessions they managed to grab while fleeing their homes in south Darfur, Sudan.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 16 November 2006 – Thousands of women and children have taken shelter at a camp in south Darfur after a sudden surge in fighting forced them to flee their homes. An estimated 11,000 people arrived at the Ottash Camp near Nyala in October alone.

Many were wounded and undernourished, and UNICEF and its partners have stepped up emergency assistance to meet their urgent needs.

“Most of them were mothers and children in dire need of shelter, food and water,” says UNICEF Programme Officer Narinder Sharma. “Some of them had been hiding in the bushes since September when the trouble started, and they arrived at Ottash in a very bad way.”

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Nguyen
Children make up half of Darfur’s population and are disproportionately affected by the crisis there.

Feeding programmes

One mother had been severely burned when Janjaweed militia torched her village, killing men and adolescent boys. Many children who survived the attack died later from thirst and hunger as they struggled to reach safety.

Malnutrition rates among children at the Ottash Camp are dangerously high, and special feeding programmes have been set up to treat severe and moderate cases. UNICEF has also provided 24 extra water points and built new latrines.

Some children were separated from their families as they fled the violence. Reuniting them is a priority, but not always possible. One young boy had no relatives left to trace after his village was attacked. “My father was killed,” he says. “Armed men beat us – they came with arms and horses and beat us. So we ran away while our parents died.”

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Nguyen
UNICEF has set up extra water points to supply thousands more people fleeing fighting in south Darfur.

Support for education

“So far, water, sanitation, nutrition and psychosocial support has been given to these children,” says Mr. Sharma. “The next step is education. UNICEF is supporting three schools at Ottash Camp where 5,000 children have already been provided with educational support. Now we have 3,000 more and it will be a challenge.”

The number of people now seeking shelter and aid at Ottash Camp has leapt from around 30,000 to 43,000 in the past couple of months. And with half the region’s population under the age of 18, children are being disproportionately affected by the continuing crisis.

UNICEF has set up ‘child-friendly spaces’ and is supporting schools and recreation in the hope of giving Darfur’s children some sense of normalcy amid the chaos of conflict.




16 November 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on aid to women and children at a camp for those displaced by violence in south Darfur.
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