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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August, 2005, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK
Sudan trek diary IX: Sickness
Bill Lorenz

Bill Lorenz of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is keeping a diary for the BBC News website as he helps thousands of Sudanese trek home to Raga in the south-west, following a deal to end a 21-year war.

The group is nearing the end of its journey but bad weather and sickness manage to cause several headaches for Bill.

Wednesday 3 August

We are so close to the end of our journey that we start giving away much of our things. Food, a radio and anything we had extra. We want to travel light. A plane is coming very early tomorrow to collect the IOM team from Deim Zubeir.

A replacement team is to come from Khartoum so we can do a handover. We need to get to Bile tonight and our thoughts are Nairobi-bound.

Arab shops burnt out in southern Sudan
The death of Vice-President Garang has led to riots in some areas
I get an SMS from Commissioner Resiki, who is behind us with the last group of about 500 people. One of the truck drivers, Belal, is very sick. He needs Dr Aden. For security reasons, we all have to stay together. We have to be at Bile tonight but we can't leave Belal.

We calculate it should take two hours to get back to Rede, 40kms (25 miles) back. We can attend to Belal and still make our plane on Thursday. It's a unanimous decision and we set off.

Belal has malaria-like symptoms. He is constantly vomiting, is severely dehydrated and exhausted. He has been on this journey since 2 May - three months and a day. Aden puts him on intravenous fluids but wants to evacuate him straight away.

I try to arrange for a UN helicopter to evacuate Belal. But the funeral arrangements of (Vice-President) John Garang and the evacuation of UN staff for security reasons, means there are none to spare. We decide to take Belal back with us in the land cruiser.


I speak to Commissioner Resiki. He has told his people, the vast majority of them just one or two kilometres outside of Bile, to stay put until he arrives.

As we retrace our trip back towards Bile with Belal, a messenger on a bicycle stops us in our tracks. There is a river ahead of us with water waist-high and no bridge to cross. We would have to wait until one was built. It could take a couple of days. I just can't believe it. Our plans never seem to stick.

I am trying to understand why one hadn't been built before. The trucks haven't come this far northwards. Until two days ago, the river had just been a tiny trickle of water easily crossed on foot. But now, the heavy rains have made it impassable for our land cruiser and the trucks coming up behind.

We decide to camp for the night at Zaka, a few kilometres before the river, with few supplies. I see Hassan, our handyman, chewing on some rotten meat.

Thursday 4 August

Every night I wake up thinking the world is coming to an end and I am here. I don't know why. This night was no exception.

A young girl sits in front of a watering hole in Sudan's southern region (file image)
People have been waiting to return home for years
Belal is slightly better this morning. He has managed to keep some porridge down. But Aden is still concerned for him.

We decide to scout ahead. Logs have been put down across the river. It's fine for us to cross, but not for the trucks. We think full steam ahead. Six kilometres (four miles) ahead we are bogged down in mud. It feels like a never ending nightmare.

When I get back to Nairobi, I won't ever complain again about the water going off.

With very little food left, we decide we will keep moving forward until we reach Deim Zubeir. No matter how many times we have to dig ourselves out.


Below, Bill answers some questions sent in by BBC News website readers.

Linda L Andi in the US wants to know how these people will be helped once they reach Raga? What their food source will be once they reach Raga? And how long they have been displaced from their villages?

She adds: The moral dilemma you explained in your diary sounds like a difficult choice to make, but necessary. How are you handling that situation of separating family members? Can the ones that are able to walk keep up with the vehicles?

They won't be given assistance when they get to Raga but they will when they get to Bile.

Here, they will be given food, seeds, agricultural tools and other assistance which will enable them to reintegrate fully once they return to their original homes.

They left their homes four years ago. Regarding the moral dilemma: It is a moot point now as most of the people are nearly at their destination. The trucks are now with 500 people some distance behind, and can transport them.

However, it had been the administration of the group that decided who were to be transported and who walked. IOM didn't get involved in the decision making. We didn't know the population well-enough so we felt it shouldn't be us deciding.

Family members not being carried, in any case, left their belongings on the trucks so they could walk more easily and keep pace.

Donna Speerf in the US wants to know how John Garang's death will affect both the process of movement back to Sudan and the wider peace process?

John Garang's death will have a lot of impact on people's movement back to their homes.

Security was and is always an issue in the decision making process for people returning home.

The SPLM and the Sudanese government have to give a clear vision of the future, of a secure future. Without good security on the ground, people won't move. They need reassurance before they do so.

Josephat Mua from the US asks, besides farming, are these former refugees trained in some business or trade so that they can start their own businesses when they return? Also, are there any arrangements for the children to go back to school? And lastly, is there any counselling on offer to cope with the death of General Garang?

Some of them are. Howiya and Hassan, often mentioned in this diary, were a trader and a butcher respectively before and want to return to their old professions.

As far as schooling goes, the local government and NGOs will organise that in communities where the people finally return to. There are also plans for a school during the people's stay at the camp in Bile. Education is seen as a priority.

As far as counselling goes, I don't think so. This week the focus has been to get to Bile and then deal with the death of John Garang.


Do you have any other questions about the journey or want Bill to explain anything in his diary? Then drop him a line using the form below

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