I met with Nick Kristof from the New York Times while he was over here in Sudan this month - and Nick recounts part of our conversation in yesterday's NYT column. (Thanks to everyone who emailed me about this, I'm trying to plough through the mountain of mail right now, but with the connection speed I've got this might take a while.)
While he was in Darfur, Nick also wrote an article on three women (two of them heavily pregnant) who had been gang-raped by Janjaweed militia just outside of Kalma camp recently. I know that he's horrified by the things he has seen and heard in Darfur, but I think today Nick might be a little bit encouraged by an important piece of news out of Kalma camp.
Now that the camp coordinator, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), has finally been allowed back into the camp after a two month absence (a long story - you can read about parts of it in this post), they have met with the African Union and local police officers to revive the so-called firewood patrols.
The idea behind the firewood patrols is pretty simple: the African Union (who has deployed about 6500 troops to Darfur to monitor the situation and create a more secure environment) is meant to work with local police officers to accompany the women of the camps when they venture outside to collect firewood. Since women often have to walk up to 5-10km away from the camp to get the wood, they are vulnerable to attacks, beatings, rape or worse during their journey - and the presence of the troops is meant to prevent anything happening to them.
Firewood patrols are not a new thing, but unfortunately they have not been particularly well coordinated in many parts of Darfur. There are camps that have been promised patrols for months - some for more than a year - but nothing has ever come of the plans.
Patrols require close coordination between the residents of the camp and aid agencies (to identify the routes used to collect the wood), the African Union and the Sudanese police (who are supposed to work alongside each other to organise the escorts for the women). Often, they have failed to be properly implemented due to a breakdown in coordination (be it on the side of obstructive local officials, undermanned African Union forces or even the aid agencies - for example, when they are prevented from doing their jobs as NRC was in Kalma camp).
While I won't pretend it's a major step forward on a wider Darfur scale, the news about the resurrected firewood patrols in Kalma camp is encouraging.
Of course, it should have happened more quickly and more efficiently. And it should be happening in more camps. But when the new firewood patrol leaves from Kalma's sector 3 this morning, it's likely to save dozens of women from suffering the same fate that the three women Nick met in Kalma two weeks ago had to endure.
Tags: Sudan, Darfur, aid worker, Kalma, African Union, rape