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Frontline Diary

25-26 September 2004: Fear and uncertainty in Darfur’s camps

© UNICEF/2004/Westerbeek
Aisha and baby daughter Muzdaleta, Kalma Camp, Darfur

In the latest of her series of diary entries from Darfur, UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek describes how rumours and speculation shape life in a camp for people who have been forced from their homes.

DARFUR, 25 September 2004 – On Saturday I receive reports about child abduction, and about bribes being used to speed up the voluntary repatriation of displaced people to their villages of origin. A mission including representatives from other UN agencies goes to Kalma camp to investigate the incident. In the end it turns out that there are at least 10 different versions of the story and it appears there are no children missing. I think the report should be called “The Kalma Incidents – Many Variations on a Theme”.

Not knowing what is happening in Kalma IDP camp, only 14 km away from Nyala, is not only frustrating for me – because I have nothing valid to report on – but it is also very difficult for us as humanitarian aid workers.

Sunday 26 September – morning

Another incident: A colleague from the Spanish Red Cross comes to check if I know what has happened in Kalma, since he says his staff are not allowed to enter the camp. When I ask around, one of the UNICEF drivers tells me that he saw that staff from MSF (Doctors Without Borders) left early in the morning, but returned not long afterwards. It is reported that Kalma camp is closed because of a security incident. Apparently two police officers were shot dead and one was wounded. Who the killers are is not clear and none of the information can be verified.

A rumour goes round that the camp might open at 11, so at that time I am waiting with a Japanese film crew and some NGOs including MSF-Holland not far from the police checkpoint outside the camp, and indeed we are able to go in. The TV crew wants some footage of the Therapeutic Feeding Centre run by MSF and supported by UNICEF. (Therapeutic Feeding Centres are for treating the most severe cases of malnutrition.)

The atmosphere in the camp feels a bit tenser than other days, but maybe that is because I feel different about going in today, because of the reported incidents. I’ve been told that some of the local displaced people working for NGOs decided to stay home, as they preferred to be with their families in case something happened.

Sunday afternoon

I am pleased to go out with the Japanese crew as it gives me the opportunity to talk to some of the women in the Therapeutic Feeding Centre.

Aisha, a young woman of 22, came to the feeding centre on the 20th of this month. Her 24-month-old child, Muzdaleta, was 5.9 kg at the time she registered at the centre. Today, 6 days later, the baby has already reached 6.9 kg and will be released when she weighs 7.4 kg. Although the child is looking pretty good and seems to have a good appetite, she is not feeling well. Her stomach is upset and she has diarrhoea.

Her mother is able to explain why she thinks her baby has diarrhoea. “I think it is because my child was first on ‘F75’ and now is on ‘F100,’ ” she says with a serious face. If you are not used to this kind of terminology it sounds rather overwhelming.  F75 and F100 are not types of aircraft – they are different kinds of milk powder. F75 is given to severely malnourished children when they arrive for treatment.  If they are getting better they are given F100, which has a higher dose of protein, has more calories and a higher osmotic load, which means the body needs to work harder to break it down.

I find it amazing to hear this young mother speak like a medical doctor. “I suspect that my child also has oedema” she says while showing me Musdaleta’s feet.  Oedema means that too much fluid, mainly water, has accumulated in the body.  Aisha knows the signs to look for, to alert the doctor when needed. She shows me the monitoring card for her child after the doctor leaves. I think Aisha would have made a great nurse or doctor if she had had the chance to go to school.



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