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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Oxfam worker reveals Sudan plight
John Kerr, 45, is an Oxfam logistics manager from Edinburgh who has travelled to the Abu Shouk camp in North Dafur, Sudan, to help tackle the humanitarian crisis.

The current situation in Sudan has forced approximately 30,000 people to flee across the border into the neighbouring nation of Chad and left about 1.2 million homeless.

After a lengthy journey over barren and wind-swept deserts, where water is scarce and temperatures can reach 50 degrees, I arrived in the Abu Shouk camp in North Dafur.

This camp is now home to more than 50,000 people who have been driven from their homes by armed militias, often fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their back.

After two months of working for Oxfam in Darfur, I can say that the situation here is extremely grim.

The scale of this crisis is almost beyond imagination.

John Kerr
John Kerr said the situation in Darfur is "extremely grim"

Over two million people have been affected by the conflict, with hundreds of thousands being displaced over the whole of Darfur, 200,000 crossing the border into Chad and an estimated 50,000 killed or missing.

Those who survived the attacks on their villages are now living in abysmal conditions with insufficient food, water, shelter, sanitation and healthcare.

Darfur covers a region the size of France, but with a very different landscape.

Unsafe to travel

I am currently based in the town of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur which is in the middle of the desert 15 minutes drive from the Abu Shouk camp.

To get here from Edinburgh I had to travel via Frankfurt, Cairo and Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

The roads between Khartoum and El Fasher are unsafe to travel on thus we flew here in a ancient rickety twin-prop plane run by a Sudanese company.

Upon boarding I found that most of the seatbelts didn't work, so it was a bit of a nerve-wracking journey!

Much of Oxfam's essential, life-saving work is made possible because of donations we receive from the public back home
The town of El Fasher has seen its population rise from 200,000 to over 230,000 as more and more displaced people arrived.

Some people are sharing accommodation with the local population, others are finding anywhere to sleep, be it inside school buildings or even in old buses. I am sharing a house with other Oxfam staff.

We live, eat, sleep and work together - sometimes as much as 16 hours a day.

In emergency situations such as this, Oxfam specialises in water and sanitation work, along with public health and hygiene promotion.

Simple shelters

In Abu Shouk camp, people are living in simple shelters constructed with plastic sheeting and iron rebar frames provided by the Red Cross.

Oxfam has installed over 3,000 latrines and bathing units and we are working along with other aid agencies to supply chlorinated water to the entire of the camp.

Clean drinking water and proper sanitation facilities are absolutely essential to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases such as cholera, typhoid and acute respiratory infections.

Sudanese refugees (Oxfam)
More than a million people in Darfur have fled their homes

For people in a fragile state of health, compounded by malnutrition, even a simple case of diarrhoea can be fatal, especially for children.

In Abu Shouk, we worked with the residents of the camp to construct the latrines.

There was lots of community participation as people worked together with us to dig the pits and construct the privacy screens.

The women of the camp organised themselves and dug the female latrines - something that I have never seen before.

Such united efforts give people in this newly formed community a sense of ownership and control over their lives, despite the horrific circumstances that have driven them here.

I manage a team which - to put it very simply - provides the critical support services that underlie the entire programme.

Darfur refugee
Darfur's people have been left devastated by the current crisis

We organise shipping and transportation and ensure that necessary equipment and supplies are available.

Everything from construction materials, tanks, pipes and pumps for our water projects to the thousands of jerry cans, buckets, water jugs and innumerable bars of soap that Oxfam recently distributed in Abu Shouk camp.

One of our recent charter planes brought a load of important radio equipment that I, as something of a communications specialist, will install in our Land Rovers so the teams can communicate effectively in the field.

Much of Oxfam's essential, life-saving work is made possible because of donations we receive from the public back home.

As I walk amongst the rudimentary shelters here in the desert of northern Darfur, I am aware that our ability to respond to the massive needs here is supported by people making donations large and small or by volunteers raising funds in Oxfam shops.

To donate to Oxfam's Sudan Emergency Appeal phone 0845 300 7070, donate online at www.oxfam.org.uk or by post to Sudan Emergency Appeal, Oxfam in Scotland, FREEPOST NAT18877, Glasgow, G2 4BR.

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