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Frontline Diary

16 July 2004: Water-borne disease threatens Darfur’s children

© UNICEF/2004/Sudan

Working with its partners, UNICEF has repaired hundreds of hand pumps, supplied millions of bars of soap and water purification tablets, and helped bring in water by tanker for Darfur’s displaced people.  But hundreds of thousands are still at risk of water-borne disease both in Darfur and across the border in Chad.  The building of thousands of latrines is helping improve conditions in camps, but aid agencies need to redouble their efforts to help families survive. UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek reports on the latest efforts to provide clean water to Darfur’s vulnerable families.

DARFUR, 16 July 2002 – This morning I am travelling with the UNICEF Water and Environmental Sanitation Officer and two people from the US Agency for International Development to Kalma camp for displaced people, to have a look at how the water and sanitation activities are being implemented.

Last week there were about 53,000 people in Kalma camp. Today it is estimated that this has increased to 63,000. The camp is expanding rapidly and new people keep coming in by foot, donkey, donkey cart, taxi or truck. Many latrines have been built over the last months and some of them are already full. An average latrine is 3 meters deep and 0.8 meters wide. Following guidelines we aim to have one latrine for 20 people. Facing the present influx of people, this is almost impossible to cope with. Wherever we drive and walk we see latrines: Old ones (full and almost full), new ones and latrines under construction.

© UNICEF/HQ04-0440/Nesbitt
Women dig a latrine at Kalma camp, South Darfur

Building a latrine is not as easy as you may think. It requires a latrine slab (made out of cement or plastic), wood, rope and thatch, labour and supervision. In some parts of the camp the terrain is not very suitable, since it is too flat or on a slope.  In these cases, there is a risk that the shelters, and also the latrines, will be washed away or flooded when the rains become heavier, since the soil in this area does not absorb the water. Just try to imagine a flooded latrine washing through your shelter.  So there is a need to dig ditches that will function as a drainage system.

I hope that the camp population will look after the latrines in their new communities. Many of them have never used a latrine in their life, and do not know about washing their hands with soap after using the facilities. Educating the people about the need for hand-washing is a huge challenge, but it is crucial for maintaining good health; the risk of communicable disease in the camp is greater than in their home villages.

The camp community plays an important role in the construction and maintenance of the latrines. Some men in the camp work as ‘latrine diggers’ and receive an incentive for this. The women have discovered that the men are earning something and want to be part of the ‘latrine digging team’ as well.

I see a group of men and a group of women digging latrines next to each other. The supervisor tells me that the women are doing a great job.



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 A source of life and death for children in Darfur and Chad.  UNICEF's Francis Mead reports...

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