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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July 2004, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Rains a curse for Sudan's refugees
By Hilary Andersson
BBC correspondent in Darfur

As evening falls across the desolate vastness of this desert, the storm clouds gather.

Woman crying in refugee in Darfur, Sudan
More than a million people have fled their homes in Darfur
The Sahara's ferocious winds swirl through the camps for a million displaced Sudanese, and the people scatter. Then the heavens open and the rains begin their torrential pounding.

Most nights now across Darfur the displaced huddle in makeshift shelters, bracing themselves against the elements.

Whole families sit upright all night, as the rain pours through the reed roofs of their shacks.

Disease

The rains here are a curse in more ways than one.

Roads have become mired in mud, making it difficult for aid to get through.

And the rains have brought disease to the camps, by flushing sewage and filth into the drinking water.

A family mourning the death of a one-year-old child from malnutrition
Here in the hospital setting where we have 50 patients you see at least one death a day if not more
Nurse Margaret Bell

"When there is any situation of overcrowding we get very concerned about the outbreak of disease from the lack of proper water and sanitation. There is no question that we are starting to see that," said Dr Jonathan Spectre, of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

A month ago the main fear was that there would be mass starvation.

Now the World Health Organisation's concern is that epidemics like cholera may break out too. Already many children in the camps have diarrhoea, vomiting and measles.

Sudan's government, under pressure from outside, has lifted many restrictions that were slowing down the flow of foreign aid to Darfur.

"I don't think the people are now facing starvation in these camps. We have here in Sudan for Darfur, 1,117 tonnes of food now," said Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein, minister of interior and the man tasked by President Omar al-Bashir to sort out the problem in Darfur.

"That amount of food will be enough for 10 months," he said

Infant rations

But because of insecurity and difficulties of the terrain the food has not reached all the people in Murnei camp.

There's not enough food here for us... but we can't go home we'll be killed
Refugee in Murnei camp

Most families say they ran out of food completely more than a week ago, and many families have been surviving since by sharing out rations intended to save just the weakest infants.

In a tented hospital for about the worst cases the children are emaciated, and tormented with the pain of starvation.

Those with infections are the most vulnerable.

"Here in the hospital setting where we have 50 patients you see at least one death a day if not more," said Margaret Bell a nurse.

"And that's just here. Out in the community there are 40 deaths a week that we know of."

The displaced are all black Sudanese; they have been forced from their villages by Sudan's Arab militias known as Janjaweed.

Sudan's government is accused of backing the militias, but denies the accusation.

The government has also recently pledged to start disarming the militias, though it has warned this will take time.

Family killed

On a bed in one of the makeshift hospitals a one-year-old girl, Asha, lies covered in sores and lesions, her skin peeling.

Woman cooking in a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan
Many families survive by sharing out rations intended for the weakest
She does not have the strength to hold her head up.

Whilst watching her daughter starve Asha's mother has been slowly losing her mind.

"Our village was burnt to the ground," her grandmother said.

"We can't go back. Nine people in our family were killed. The attackers took everything we had. There's not enough food here for us, and I'm worried Asha will die but we can't go home we'll be killed".

International organisations have called the situation in Darfur the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

They have also warned that thousands more may die if more help does not arrive quickly.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"They've already fled war, many are starving and now nature has turned on them"



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