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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Darfur aid worker's diary II

Marcus Prior
Marcus Prior: 'The scale of the need... is overwhelming.'

A crisis is looming in western Sudan's Darfur region, where some 1.2 million people have been fleeing attacks by Arab militiamen.

Aid worker Marcus Prior travelled with the World Food Programme (WFP) to visit the refugees caught up in what the UN has described as the worst humanitarian situation in the world.

:: Thursday 1 July ::

0600:Alarm goes off to remind me I am flying back to Darfur today. But this time I don't mind admitting a certain childish thrill - I'm flying with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

0830: The UN Boeing 727 was no more deluxe than your average commuter plane. White on the outside, UN-blue seats and carpeting inside. Practical, comfortable, undemonstrative.

Darfur refugees
The lack of clean water could help spread disease
0930: As we fly into El Fasher something is very different. There is water - everywhere. It has been raining for the past three days and the desert is now awash.

1000: Children are out on the streets to greet the 20-car convoy as we drive through town. Several are splashing around in deep puddles.

1030: We reach Zam Zam, a camp that is home to 10,000 people.

Annan settles on his knees under an acacia tree to talk with the senior men of the camp. He promises them they will not be forced to return to their villages without protection.

One old man sums it up perfectly - "I am old, I am tired, I am hungry - but it is better to be all of those things than a dead man. I am not moving for now."

1115: A poignant moment as - in a roughly cordoned off area - Annan sits to listen what the women of Zam Zam have to tell him.

Reports of rape and sexual torture in Darfur are widespread so it is both right and moving that the Secretary General should have this private moment with them.

1245: Arrive in Meshtel camp. I was here a week ago and there were at least 3,000 people, living in some of the worst conditions I have ever seen.


UN officials visited last night and those people were still in Meshtel. Now, with the Secretary General looking on, there is nobody. Every last one of them has been moved. Overnight. Apparently to a nearby camp that is already overcrowded.

This is exactly the kind of "story" the 50-odd journalists travelling with the delegation were hoping for.

1400: The Secretary General's plane takes off for Chad, where he will visit the nearly 200,000 refugees from Darfur, the international dimension to the crisis. For me it's back to 20-seaters, and a two-hour flight back to Khartoum. Quite a day.

:: Wednesday 30 June ::

1000:If the international community wanted to put the Sudanese government under pressure they're doing a pretty good job of it this week. Both US Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan are visiting Khartoum and Darfur. Those are two very big sticks.

1200: Finding out where and when Colin Powell will be holding his press conference is like hunting Osama bin Laden.

Burial in Darfur
Mourners bury a young victim of malnutrition in the refugee camps
I have all the right telephone numbers for all the right people but nobody seems to have an answer. I put it down to "security" and get on with my day.

1400: I'm told the press conference will be at 1800.

1630: I'm told the press conference is now at 1700.

1631: Charge out of office for the presidential suite at the airport to get to the press conference on time but Powell's plane has still not returned from Darfur.

After official visits with Sudanese ministers and then with the Secretary General, the press conference starts closer to 1830.

I miss it entirely as I am collared by BBC television, who want an interview with WFP.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's Christen Thomsen
"The scale of the crisis is easy to see"



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