Thursday, June 30, 2005

Everyone is talking about Kalma, Darfur’s biggest camp. It is bursting at the seams with hundreds of thousands of displaced families squashed into a long, narrow strip of land that runs for about 7kms alongside South Darfur’s train tracks...previous head counts suggest there are about 100,000 living here, but recent re-re-registrations (why the hell can no one ever seem to run a successful registration campaign? Is it really that hard to count people? GEEZ!) claim there are over a quarter of a million souls in here.

At least 25,000 of those living at Kalma are supposed to move: there is no doubt the camp is too full and that there is a (very real) risk of flooding to the low-lying areas now that the rains have started. But everyone knows that real reason behind the relocation issue is the Sudanese government’s mission to break up this monster camp and intimidate its inhabitants, who it suspects of sheltering anti-government rebels in its midst.

Unfortunately NO ONE is willing to leave the relative safety-in-numbers of Kalma and start walking to Al Salam, the new camp that is only a few kilometres down the road. Aid workers who walk around the camp to explain the option of the move (especially to those people whose houses are already flooding away) receive a mixed response of outrage and complete and utter disbelief. Lots of headshaking, accompanied by, "You know, if you didn't have these khawaja (foreigners) walking around with you, we would beat you right now."

The worries about insecurity at the new site are not exactly a figment of the overactive imagination either: aid workers prepping the area for the expected relocation have had guns pointed at their heads, while some of the local labourers digging latrines and boreholes have been killed, robbed and beaten on their way out there. (This, incidentally, is always the kind of thing the drivers like telling you when you are driving back from visiting a place like Al Salam…better after than before I suppose…)

Everyone is expecting something sinister to happen any day now: will Kalma be flooded? Will people scatter out of their shelters and across the railroad tracks into an area where irate, gun-toting landowners are ready at their triggers to turn them back? Will those who scamper onto the higher-lying areas across the wadi be completely cut off from food aid and other NGO services?

To make it all a bit more reassuring, the governor has announced that he will bulldoze down the entire camp in seven days if no one begins to relocate (the best part about this deadline is that no one is exactly sure to which date is refers, so it could be tomorrow, it could be next week.) I wonder how on earth he is planning to march some 100,000 - 200,000 people who are a.) terrified b.) pissed off c.) confused or d.) all of the above across half a dozen kilometres of rocky desert to their new ‘homes’? And what if they refuse? To say it could get messy would be a bit of an understatement.

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At , Blogger Dharma Bum said...

Don't stop writing. My best friend was country director for an aid organization in the Sudan until about 16-months ago. His stories were surreal and powerful. I lost my brother to suicide, and kept some sense of perspective by opening up his emails and reading about what is going on there.

Keep up the work and don't lose faith. But, be true to yourself first and foremost and keep sane.

Dharma Bum


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