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21 August 2004: Belgian Minister of Defence and journalists arrive in Darfur

By Sacha Westerbeek

In the latest of her series of diary entries from Darfur, UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek takes Belgian journalists to visit the Abou Shouk camp.

It is a hectic morning here in El Fasher, North Darfur. I arrived only yesterday and am now working on preparing for the visit of Belgian Minister of Defence Andre Flahaut, along with over 20 Belgian journalists.

The Belgian Army Airbus is scheduled to bring – for free – a total of 19,560 kg of medicines, medical equipment and school supplies for UNICEF, with a total value of more than US$96,000. Other agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) will also be able make use of the free services of the Airbus for one month to send relief to some 1.2 million people who have been displaced in the Darfur region.

Later: The Minister and journalists have arrived. While the Minister is in discussion with various parties including the Wali (Governor), UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affaires (UNOCHA), I leave with the journalists for Abu Shouk camp. This camp, which is on the outskirts of El Fasher, was set up in April and now hosts around 44,000 people.

The major causes of displacement of the people in North Darfur include repeated droughts, recurrent tribal conflicts, deteriorating economic conditions and the attacks on villages. By now, it is estimated that approximately 370,000 people, including both people forced to flee their homes and people in the communities that now host them, have been affected by the fighting in North Darfur.

Abou Shouk, which the journalists are visiting today, is one of the camps in Darfur where most of the services are in place. It is of course far from perfect, since it is meant for temporary settlement. There are still some serious gaps – mainly in the areas of water, sanitation, education and health care. But all in all the camp looks very well equipped and organized and every shelter has plastic sheeting.

WFP is distributing food to the children, women and men; queues are waiting for their monthly food ration, which consists of oil, salt, wheat, sorghum and lentils. The media dashes off for interviews and the UNICEF-supported school next to the distribution point is kind enough to send some of their staff to translate.

At one o’clock, I take the journalists back to the Airbus. I hope they realize that not all the camps are so nicely set up as Abu Shouk. I hope they realize that there are still thousands of people in far worse conditions, in need of assistance. The Darfur crisis continues, and they need our continued support to be able to survive the time to come.



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