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Frontline Diary

28 July 2004: A boy of sixteen whose arm is as thin as a five-year old’s

© UNICEF Sudan/2004
UNICEF communication officer Sacha Westerbeek with children in South Darfur

28 July 2004: a boy of sixteen whose arm is as thin as a five-year old’s
In the latest of her diary entries from Darfur, UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek reports that malnutrition is seriously threatening the lives of many of Darfur’s children. 
DARFUR, 28 July 2002 – Today I visit Kass. This village and its camp is about 85 km from Nyala and hosts about 40,000 displaced people. We leave with a small convoy of two vehicles. On this road we have to do our regular radio checks because of the prevailing insecurity.

The area we travel through reminds me a bit of the Oshana in Namibia: It is dry and desert-like. The big difference is the herds of camels that I see along the road. Although many of the villages are deserted I notice that there are many people ploughing the land.

Some of the people I speak with tell me that they are from Kailek. When I hear this I get goose bumps straight away. It was only this week that I learnt about Kailek, located some 64 km southwest of Kass.  It has a terrible history.

About 23 villages around Kailek were attacked in the first quarter of this year and the people fled to Kailek where they were under siege for more than two months. A group of approximately 1,700 displaced people were concentrated within a small area in the centre of town, living under appalling conditions, under the trees or in grass shelters. Try to imagine how life would be with limited access to food, wood and water. At the time the town was under siege, no health facility was functioning and the only person with any kind of medical background was only trained in first aid and had no access even to basic drugs.

It is estimated that there were about 300 children under 5 in Kailek, and around 80 per cent of them had some type of malnutrition. During the second month, there were about 7 to 9 deaths per day. The main causes of death were complications of malnutrition, dehydration, malaria and acute respiratory infections.

One of the first women I talk to in Kass camp is Asha. She clearly has goitre, since she has a very visible swelling in her throat. This is a very common problem when the diet lacks iodine.

© UNICEF/2004/Westerbeek
Osman has his arm measured at Kass camp, South Darfur

Later on I find out that she comes from Kailek. She has a 16-year-old son, Osman, who is in really bad condition. Andi, the UNICEF nutritionist, measures the child’s arm. His condition is serious: The boy’s arm circumference is 13.4 cm – a one- to five-year old is considered nutritionally at risk with this measurement, let alone an adolescent of 16 years.

We advise the mother to send Osman to the clinic, which is not even 20 metres away from here. Even though Osman is not in the “normal” age group of children who receive therapeutic or supplementary feeding, this boy needs assistance as soon as possible. It is likely that he has tuberculosis and, in combination with his severely undernourished condition, it will take a long time before he can recover.

The clinic behind Asha and Osman’s shelter is provided with drugs by UNICEF. At least there they will be able to give him the drugs he needs.  Because he has not been treated for his illness earlier, he now also needs to go to the therapeutic feeding centre.

At his age he should be playing with his friends and chasing after girls, not sitting quietly in front of their newly constructed shelter.




Darfur’s women and children are exposed to widespread sexual violence.  UNICEF's Francis Mead reports.

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