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Frontline Diary

12 July 2004: The struggle for shelter in Darfur

© UNICEF/2004/Sudan
Sacha Westerbeek, UNICEF Communication Officer in Darfur
UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek is based in Nyala, South Darfur. More than a million people have been displaced after months of militia attacks. Many are gathered in camps for displaced people. This is Sacha’s personal diary.

DARFUR, 12 July - I travel with some UNICEF colleagues in a small convoy with the required minimum of two vehicles to Zalengi in West Darfur to assess the situation in the camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) near the town.

On the way to Zalengi we have to stop many times at checkpoints to show our travel permit to the police. The journey takes about four hours from Nyala and we see many destroyed villages. They look like ghost towns. It is strange to realise that one village is burned to the ground and the next, not even one kilometre away, is still intact.  It is explained to me that it just depends on from which tribe or ethnic group you are.

In some of the destroyed villages we see that new people are settling in. I see a whole family working to cultivate the land, even using a camel to pull the plough.

Nowadays there is the danger that the crop might get spoiled. This year it was not possible to spray for locusts or grasshoppers because of the security situation.

Locusts are very common in this kind of mountainous area and it is hoped that they will not destroy all the newly planted crops.
We reach the camp and make an assessment to see how UNICEF can give further assistance. The situation is dire. The IDP population is still increasing rapidly - now to about 80,000.

Many of them build huts in the centre of town where it is much safer than the outskirts. This is a serious health hazard as there are not enough sanitation facilities.

After going around the camp and meeting with government officials and NGO partners, we head back to Nyala. The rain sets in by the time we leave Zalengi.

We are back at the office. A quick meal and now I have to download my photos and try to connect to the Internet. 11pm is the usual end of the working day.  It is a seven-day working week here with very long days.

Part of my job is providing the media with accurate information but this is a challenge, especially since the number of IDPs is still on the increase and they are continuously on the move. It is estimated that the total number in the Darfur region now exceeds one million.

The government issued me a photo permit to allow me to take pictures, which is of paramount importance to do my job.

Flipping - or actually in these days it is clicking - through them, I stop for a while at a photo which I took yesterday at Zalengi IDP camp.
Busina looks at me with a desperate look in her eyes. Yesterday, I walked around to see how the people construct their huts and suddenly I felt somebody taking me by the hand. It is Busina.

She takes me to her "home". A small hut, not bigger than an average washroom. She asks me for plastic to cover the roof.

I feel useless and bad about the fact that I cannot give it to her instantly. Tarpaulins are part of the Non Food Items that the IDPs receive upon arrival in the camp. The rain is approaching and will be here in no more than an hour's time. I feel sorry for her.

She looks young and fragile, but has already five children: three boys and two girls. She has been here now for about six weeks and life is difficult. Her son is sick and her husband was killed when her village - Beida - was attacked.



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