Thursday, July 26, 2007


Many organizations are working in water and sanitation activities in the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps of Darfur. The list of projects is varied: drilling boreholes and fitting hand pumps, digging wells, installing huge elevated steel water tanks, laying a system of reticulated water distribution points, building latrines…

Doing such a project is relatively uncomplicated. Funding is easy to come by, as the justification to bring water into a "sere, desolate environment" is apparent to most donours.

I visited an IDP camp a few weeks ago to set up a new project and get a feel for the ongoing humanitarian work there. It was one of the largest camps of Darfur, with a population of almost 100,000 IDPs, and it took us most of the day to tour the place by car. As we explored later on foot it was impossible not to notice the rivers of water that were streaming through many roads, turning them into mud and causing a bottleneck of pedestrians on the remaining piece of dry walkway. We followed one stream for three blocks, approximately 200 meters, until we found the source: smiling children bathing under a running tap, playing in the puddles, and wasting most of the water as it missed the UNICEF jug entirely and fell onto the ground.

The SPHERE standard for minimum water requirements is 15 liters a day per person, or approximately one and a half metal buckets. However, one water engineer that worked at this same camp in 2005 estimated that each person the camp used much more than that, and that 15-20% of it was wasted as it leaked or was carelessly left to stream down roads.

One of my friends, a camp manager, told me that she assumed “[the camp residents] are used to conserving water and are averse to any type of waste.” She said that because many IDPs fled an area where water was scarce. Children walked for hours every day to fetch water from a safe source, or the village drank from nearby but shallow, contaminated wells that were often shared with herds of cows and donkeys.

It is off course a good thing that IDPs have access to potable water. But we should not stick to a preconception that resource management will happen by itself just because the IDPs are from a desert and therefore used to water management.

What are the consequences of this system of water management for the IDPs? For one, it might mean that they will not return to their homes until they are offered this water in their villages (as has happened in Northern Uganda). Inside the camps there are health services, unlimited amounts of purified water only a short walk away, free food from WFP, and soon there will be schools for their children – none of which they had before. They stay in the camps because it is still too dangerous for them to return – but they will also stay because what they are offered there is too good to leave.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sudan must pay victims of USS Cole

A US Court has ordered Sudan to pay 8 M USD to the families of the victims in the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000: "there was enough evidence that Sudan had helped al Qaeda," the terrorist group blamed with the bombing, said the US judge. link

Sunday, July 22, 2007


We recently visited the pyramids of Meroe - it was the first time since my arrival here that I had visited an official tourist site. Despite what the guidebook stated, we did not have the grounds to ourselves and we shared the experience with some visiting Chinese businessmen. They pyramids are said to be the most visited site in all of Sudan – we saw a half dozen people, all of them Chinese. The touts that lined up outside the derelict entrance gates had only a half-dozen trinkets each displayed on the sand before them. Besides the miniature pyramids and Darfuri knives, the remaining baubles – cheap elastic and fake silver jewelry – I assume also came from China. It was strange to see a Chinese person bargain over them.

The ruins are the graves of ancient Meroe royalty, and date from around 0 AD. Most have been destroyed over the years - either through the effects of time or through pillaging by treasure hunters like the Italian Giuseppi Ferlini, who disassembled many of them piece by piece in search of gold and found nothing more than one necklace. In any case, not enough about them is known, and the bits and pieces that have been picked up over the years have left Sudan and now lie in European museums. What is left of interest are 2000-year old hieroglyphics alongside modern 20th century graffiti: "Osman Mahd, 1946"; "Alman, 1950"; "Latio, 1950."

It is remarkable what Sudan has to offer to visitors: the best diving in the world along the Red Sea Coast, a history as ancient as that of Egypt’s, the mountains and waterfalls of Jebel Mara in West Darfur (which used to be a popular R&R destination), a total geographical area almost five times as large as Kenya including an environment in the south that once supported the same populations of wild animals that brings Kenya over half of a billion USD every year in tourism revenue, and a hospitality of a people that is legendary among even well-traveled backpackers.

Instead, Sudan decides to throw this away, and instead spend much of its time destroying itself through everlasting war.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Looking Up

I am an aid worker in Sudan; I am based in West Darfur. I cannot write more than that – if I identify the organization for which I work, my name, or that of any of my friends, I face an almost certain expulsion from this country and serious consequences for my colleagues. So I’ll leave it at that.

In the first three months I moved frequently between the towns of Western Bahr el Ghazal and Juba (South Sudan), Khartoum, and West Darfur. I was overwhelmed with work and with an overdose of information, but my agitation was not just due to the normal feelings that accompany exposure to a new culture. Sudan has experienced only a decade of peace since World War II and remains beset by a different conflict on four of its borders. The government in Khartoum is set on obstructing humanitarian involvement and has been contributing to the crimes against humanity that are occurring in Darfur. The tension between South Sudan and North is so strong that many fear a resumption of the war, the war that lasted 22 years, killed millions of Sudanese, and left a lost generation in its wake. I am overwhelmed by the responses to my questions - a chaotic miscellany of motivations and hidden truths - and I don't know what to think.

Little that I have read in the press is forthcoming about events in Sudan. Many questions are left unanswered, or the explanations are overly simplistic. How are the conflicts in South Sudan and Darfur related? Why does Mohammed el-Bashir, the Sudanese president, not cooperate with the West? Why is the continuation of the war in Darfur simplistically explained as a conflict between Arab pastoralists and Black African farmers, when so may other factors – the influence of events in Chad, the destruction of the environment, events in South Sudan, or the role of humanitarian actors, among others – are also contributing to the conflict or preventing a peace.

My perspective is that of a humanitarian worker. They are the conclusions that I have made from my experiences here in Sudan.

Dinka Boy