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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September 2004, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Darfur aid worker's diary XXI
Sacha Westerbeek
Sacha Westerbeek is one of the people trying to help some of the one million Sudanese people who have fled their homes in what the UN is calling "the world's worst humanitarian crisis".

She is working for the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, in Nyala, South Darfur and is writing a diary for BBC News Online about her experiences.

Sunday 26 September


This morning a colleague from the Spanish Red Cross comes to check if I know what might have happened in Kalma, as he tells me that his staff is not allowed to enter the camp.

When I ask around one of the Unicef drivers tells me that he saw Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) leave early this morning, but return to Nyala shortly afterwards.

Then we hear that Kalma camp is closed - again - due to a security incident.

Apparently two police officers were shot dead and one is wounded. By who is not clear and again none of the information can be verified.

It is then rumoured the camp might open at 1100.

I am waiting with a Japanese film crew and some NGOs including MFS-Holland not far from the police checkpoint and indeed around 1100 we cross the checkpoint and we enter Kalma camp.

The TV crew wants some footage from the Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC) run by MSF-Holland and supported by Unicef.

The atmosphere in the camp feels a bit tenser than on other days, but that is maybe also because I feel different about going in today, because of the reported incidents.

I've been told that some of the local IDP staff working for NGOs have decided to stay at home in case something happens again.


I am pleased to go out with the Japanese crew as it gives me the opportunity to talk to some of the women in the TFC.

Mother and child at a TFC in Kalma camp, Darfur, Sudan
I suspect that my child also has oedema
Aisha, a young 22-year-old woman, came to the TFC six days ago. Her 24-month-old child, Muzdaleta was 5.9kg at the time she registered here. Now the baby has already reached 6.9kg, and will be released when she weighs 7.4kg.

Although the baby is looking pretty good and seems to have a good appetite, she is not feeling well. Her stomach is upset and she has diarrhoea.

"I think it is because my child was first on F75 and now is on F100", she says.

If you are not used to this kind of terminology it sounds rather overwhelming and I find it amazing to hear this young mother speak like a medical doctor about the different milk formulas administered for malnourished children.

F75 milk powder is given to severely malnourished children at the beginning of the treatment.

As they are get a bit better they will be given F100, which has a higher dose of protein, more calories and a higher osmotic load, which means that the body needs to work harder to break it down.

Changing a child's diet from F75 to F100 can be risky, and the transition phase is closely monitored.

Sometimes when a child's body is not ready for the dietary change, it can lead to oedema or - in rare cases - to cardiac failure.

"I suspect that my child also has oedema," she says while showing me Muzdaleta's swollen feet.

Aisha has been well trained and knows the signs to look for to alert the doctor when needed.

She shows me Muzdaleta's monitoring card after the doctor leaves: possible oedema - needs reassessment tomorrow.

Saturday 25 September

I receive news about child abductions and bribes to speed up the voluntary repatriation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their villages of origin.

A mission goes to Kalma IDP camp to investigate the incident.

In the end it turns out that there are at least 10 different versions of the story and it appears there are no children missing.

The African Union also investigates the incident and they have another version of the story.

Not knowing what is happening in Kalma IDP camp, only 14km away from Nyala, makes it very difficult and frustrating for humanitarian aid workers.

We do not know who to address and how to prevent further confusion amongst the IDPs, teachers, children, police and other parties involved.

Friday 24 September

On Friday, the government of Sudan reports on a coup plot by backers of detained Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi.

My UN colleagues in the capital Khartoum are urged to stay indoors and to be on the alert. I wonder if Darfur is safer than Khartoum.

Wednesday 22 September
Kalma IDP camp, about 14 km from Nyala - the capital of South Darfur, has changed so much over the last month.

The official figure released by the UN shows that there are presently 60,000 IDPs living in the camp and like any other settlement were thousands of people are living together there is a lot of business going on.

We have a tea break in the market and I'm happily surprised to see the many business initiatives that are taking off in the camp.

There is a meat corner with (I hope) freshly slaughtered meat (you get the flies with it for free), a shoe repair shop, a radio repair shop, a tailor, several places were you can buy clothes, shoes, vegetables, dates and fruit.

There are small corner shops which sell basic items such as sugar, salt, tomato sauce, peanuts, soap etc and every five metres, there is a tea shop and I even see a place were you can relax and have a puff on one of the water pipes.

When they were attacked, some of the IDPs had to leave their homes without money or even clothes. Often they are forced to sell some of the goods they are given by aid organisations and it is therefore no surprise that the market is bursting with oil, sorghum, jerry cans and other items that were distributed.

I meet a woman who tells me that she ran away from home early in the morning when her village was attacked. She was wearing hardly any clothes and she had to walk two full days to get to Kalma camp.

After she received food she was able to sell a quantity of it and she bought a dress.

She tells me that her children go to bed hungry, but that she cannot walk around half naked.

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