North Darfur: 61,000 People Living in Precarious Conditions in Sortoni Camp

Since mid-January approximately 61,000 Darfuris have poured out of Jebel Mara, North Darfur, and settled in the nearby Sortoni camp. Their displacement is part of a larger exodus caused by the Sudanese government’s attempt to re-establish control over conflict-ridden Jebel Mara.

Camps like Sortoni, however, are unsafe, poorly supplied, and dangerously unhygienic. Residents do not receive enough water, and many are now searching for alternative sources outside the camp. Some of the wells they are using are contaminated, and in the last four weeks there have been eight deaths due to diarrhea.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides medical services, water, sanitation and non-food items for the newly arrived in the camp. "Lack of clean water is the main concern," explains David Therond, MSF head of mission. "International and local nongovernmental organizations, as well as the Sudanese authorities, need to do more to truck clean water into the camp. We have large numbers of people living in the most basic conditions and they are only receiving about five liters per day, significantly less than the 10 liter minimum the United Nations recommends for healthy living."

Some of the other international organizations present have tried to drill boreholes in this harsh environment, but so far they have come up with nothing. The only solution to date is to truck water in from neighboring areas, which is both logistically difficult and dangerous. MSF has recently increased its trucking to 64,000 liters a day, but, when combined with what other NGOs are providing, there is still a massive shortfall of some 286,000 liters a day.

Complex Challenges

"There are other challenges facing the population," says Therond. "Food distribution can be sporadic, and the rations given to the residents can be insufficient. We are finding cases of malnutrition among the children, something that should not happen once they are receiving aid."

Disturbingly, reports of sexual violence are spreading. Given the cultural taboo that exists against young women reporting such attacks, it is thought that those who do come forward are representative of a much larger problem. Criminal gangs also prey on the new arrivals. Authorities must restore order to the areas around the camp.

MSF is continuing to contribute to the relief effort. The organization is principally using its expertise to provide primary, secondary, and reproductive health services to the population.

Fighting Disease

The risk of communicable diseases like measles is of real concern, as they can spread very quickly in an environment where people are living so closely together. In response, MSF launched a blanket measles vaccination campaign for children under five years of age and expanded an immunization program that protects children against polio and administers the BCG combination to help prevent tuberculosis and other infections.

"The camp needs to develop an infrastructure to cope with the influx of people," says Therond. "The fighting has continued much longer than the relief agencies estimated, and we are now faced with a real capacity issue. The water and food that people are receiving is totally insufficient and we fear that a larger health emergency is around the corner if the nongovernmental and governmental organizations don’t start stepping up."

Interventions by INGOs in Sortoni camp to provide water to the approx 60,000 IDPs have fled Jebel Mara after the Sudanese Government has started a military campaign to squeeze out rebels.