Darfur: Disease, Death And Despair

In this April 20, 2010 photo, television producer Shawn Ryan, left, works on the pilot of his new police drama "Ride-Along" in Chicago.
AP Photo/Paul Beaty
The displaced of Darfur are hard pressed to find space for their dead, or enough water for the Islamic ritual washing of the lifeless body.

Three or four people die every week in Camp Hessa Hissa, most of malaria or waterborne diseases such as typhoid, Jason Azevedo, an International Rescue Committee worker in the camp, said Thursday.

Graves are scattered among the stick-and-plastic tents of the living in a camp that houses an estimated 23,000 people who have fled their homes because of violence many blame on their government.

"Death is everywhere here," said Omar Abdullah, a 43-year-old tribal chief living in the camp, one of Darfur's smallest. "The general feeling is very gloomy. Not only do the people have to put up with the misery of leaving their homes and lives behind, but also they are faced with death every day."

The U.N. World Health Organization says 6,000 to 10,000 people are dying monthly from disease and violence in the 129 camps like this one scattered across Darfur, a region roughly the size of France and home to some 6 million people. A growing number of people are streaming into such temporary settlements, U.N. officials say.

WHO estimated 50,000 deaths from violence, disease or starvation in Darfur since the start of the conflict 19 months ago, when rebels with their base among the region's ethnic African farmers rose up, accusing the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum of neglect and discrimination.

The government is accused of trying to put down the rebellion by backing Arab herdsmen who long have competed with villagers over Darfur's scarce resources. The escalating violence, which has forced thousands of ethnic Africans from their homes, has been described by the United States as genocide.

The Sudanese government is under increasing pressure to do more to reverse what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian disaster. The international community, though, is divided on how to proceed.

At the United Nations, the United States faced opposition from China, Russia and other Security Council members to its latest draft resolution threatening oil sanctions against Sudan if the government doesn't quickly rein in the Arab militia known as the Janjaweed.

Thursday, the European Parliament called for U.N. sanctions and an international arms embargo against Sudan, saying atrocities being committed in Darfur were "tantamount to genocide."

In doing so, the European Parliament became the first in the European Union to agree with Washington's genocide designation. EU governments have so far refrained from that characterization.

Camp Hessa Hissa has for months been home to people who fled villages in a radius of about 60 miles in this corner of West Darfur. Camp residents try to give their loved ones proper funerals, scrambling to find enough water to wash the bodies and using the same plastic bags and sticks they use for their makeshift homes to erect the traditional shelters where mourners accept condolences. Residents shake their heads over the state of graves littered with animal and human waste.

"With the living conditions here, it is very hard to honor our dead with a proper grave," said Hussein Adam Jumaa, 40.

Some graves bear small piles of stones. Others are unmarked but for lines of stones in the dust surrounding groups of plots.

Azevedo, the International Rescue Committee worker, said disease and filth were the most immediate problems at the camp.

"The sanitary conditions are very poor. We need more toilets," he said.

Toilets are no more than holes in the ground, some dug right beside the graves. Flies swarm everywhere, to the point that few people even bother to brush them away anymore.

By Rawya Rageh