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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October 2004, 02:13 GMT 03:13 UK
Breaking Darfur's stereotypes
The crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region is often portrayed as a simple conflict between Arabs and Africans, but the World Food Programme's Greg Barrow says the reality on the ground is much more complex:

Displaced Sudanese women in a camp in Darfur
Some 1.4 million people have been displaced in the conflict in Darfur
There are few sadder sights to behold in South Darfur state than the 5,000 members of the Dinka community living in a camp on the edge of the village of Muhajaria.

They are among the tens of thousands of Dinka who fled to the region in the late 1980s to escape attacks from Arab horsemen, or Muraheleen, who were rampaging across the Dinka homeland in the remote and barren south Sudanese province of Bhar Al Ghazal.

Today, they are cursed with the dreadful irony of having fled one conflict zone only to find themselves stranded in another.

For more than 15 years, they have been adrift and bereft, carving out a pittance of an income by working as sharecroppers, cleaners and builders.

They are far from their homes, and have lost the wealth that they once preserved in the shape of their majestic cattle herds.

Different stories

In a region filled with African groups displaced by the ongoing conflict with the Arab Janjaweed militia, there are lessons to be learned from the plight of the Dinka.

Click on the links below to read these refugees' experiences of conflict in Sudan

Not least, that once large numbers of people are displaced from their homes and their livelihoods, it is extremely difficult to get them back.

Even if a final peace agreement is signed in southern Sudan between the Khartoum government and the southern rebels, the Dinka will find it almost impossible to resume their old way of life in Bhar Al Ghazal.

But while the historic conflict between Arabs and Africans is a recurring theme in Sudan, it would be wrong to assume that it is always Arabs who are the victors, and Africans the vanquished.

In camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in Darfur, where the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) works, we have found many examples of families and communities whose stories do not fit into simple stereotypes.

It is true that black Africans are in the majority among the hundreds of thousands of displaced and most of them say they fled attacks by the Arab Janjaweed militia.

But there are also displaced Arab communities, whose villages were attacked by African groups, and who are victims of inter-African ethnic fighting.

There are even parts of South Darfur where the WFP currently cannot work because of a dangerous traditional conflict between rival Arab groups.

Mostly farmers

Beyond the populations of IDPs, there are host communities whose towns and villages have also found themselves caught up in this crisis.

The sudden influx of IDPs has put their water wells, environment, and fragile economies under immense strain.

Of course, the region's humanitarian crisis makes no distinction between its victims. In the coming months, this dusty landscape, filled with the footprints of competing ethnic groups, will unite all of the dispossessed in their suffering.

Most of the displaced, whether Arab or African in origin, are farmers.

As a result, up to half of all arable land is lying fallow. Traditional tillers of the soil will not be producing for the regional markets this year.

The long-term impact will be felt by everyone.

WFP is currently providing food aid to more than a million people across Darfur, but the figure could reach two million by the end of the year.

The provision of international food aid will help alleviate the suffering of hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the short-term.

But rebuilding lives and livelihoods against a backdrop of conflicting ethnic and religious interests requires a more complex solution - both for victims of past and present crises.

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