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Sudan civil war: The children living between starvation and death in Darfur

  • By Barbara Plett-Usher
  • BBC Africa Correspondent

Image source, Mohamed Zakaria/BBC

Legend, Three of Qisma Abdirahman Ali Abubaker’s children died recently

This woman with sad eyes and a calm voice is just one of millions of people living in camps for those forced to flee their homes in Sudan, where a civil war broke out a year ago between the army and an armed paramilitary group. The country is now facing what the UN considers to be the “worst food crisis in the world”.

Qisma Abdirahman Ali Abubaker queues to collect her food ration, but her heart is not in it.

The little bag no longer needs to stretch as far as it used to for his family.

Three of her children have died of illness and malnutrition in the past four months, she says. The eldest was three years old, another two years old and the last a six month old baby.

Ms Abubaker took refuge in the Zamzam camp for internally displaced people in North Darfur, a region in the west of the country, amid warnings of a catastrophic nutritional crisis.

It is the oldest and largest camp of its kind in the country, but the despair and grief are new as Sudan’s war enters its second year.

The medical association Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says it noted in January that at least one child in the camp was dying every two hours. With little food, clean water or health care, diseases that were once treatable now kill.

MSF is one of the last international humanitarian agencies still present on the ground in Darfur.

She has just carried out a mass screening of vulnerable women and children in Zamzam and shared the results exclusively with the BBC.

The agency found that three in 10 children under the age of five were suffering from acute malnutrition, as were a third of pregnant and breastfeeding women, confirming fears of a “catastrophe” suggested by an earlier survey.

That’s double the threshold for a nutritional emergency, and probably only the tip of the iceberg of Sudan’s food crisis, says Abdalla Hussein, MSF’s operations manager in Sudan.

“We haven’t reached all the children in Darfur, not even in North Darfur, we’re talking about just one camp,” he told me at MSF’s regional headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

Image source, Mohamed Zakaria/BBC

Legend, Thousands of people in Zamzam camp desperately need help

Access to Darfur is extremely difficult for foreign journalists as well as humanitarian agencies, but we worked with a local cameraman and Ms Abubaker told him her story.

She could not afford to take her children to the hospital or buy medicine.

“My first child died on the way home from the pharmacy, and the second died after six days due to malnutrition,” she says.

The baby fell ill and died three days later.

Ms. Abubaker’s family are small farmers, like many in Darfur. They struggled to produce enough food, and the violence and insecurity of the war severely disrupted agriculture.

“People are sick and hungry,” she told the BBC. “The displaced people are unemployed and the only people who have money are (government) employees. Ninety percent of the people are sick.”

Zamzam was already fragile, formed by those caught up in ethnic violence 20 years ago and dependent almost entirely on humanitarian aid.

But food supplies stopped with the war. Most humanitarian agencies were evacuated as paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took control of large swathes of the region.

Fighters from RSF and its allied militias are accused of having looted hospitals and stores, which RSF has always denied.

Getting new supplies across the conflict lines proved almost impossible. Aid workers say Sudanese military authorities are taking too long to issue visas and internal travel permits.

And the army blocked land routes from neighboring Chad, saying it had to stop arms deliveries to the RSF.

This obstacle has eased slightly for food supplies – the World Food Program recently managed to bring in two convoys – but not enough.

The lack of food is accompanied by a dysfunction of health services.

Across the country, only 20 to 30 percent of health facilities are still functional.

Image source, Mohamed Zakaria/BBC

Legend, Hundreds of thousands of people live in Zamzam camp, forced from their homes following a series of conflicts.

One of them is the Babiker Nahar pediatric hospital in the town of Fasher, near the Zamzam camp, which has a therapeutic feeding center for children and intensive care for the most serious cases.

Both rooms were full the day our cameraman visited.

Babies with tubes in their noses moaned softly in their mothers’ arms.

Amin Ahmed Ali fed his grandson serum using a syringe. She has six-month-old twins who are slowly recovering from weeks of dysentery. Other children ate packets of high-calorie foods.

Dr Ezzedine Ibrahim says the hospital treated cases of malnutrition before the war, but now “the numbers have doubled”.

“Every month and the next month the numbers go up, despite the fact that we had a system in North Darfur, a comprehensive nutritional program that continued but was abandoned because of the war.”

This is about as good as it gets for the health of children in Darfur, other places are even more isolated and desperate.

A regional rescuer sent us images of areas in the region that aid workers have called a “black hole” in humanitarian aid.

There is a photo of an emaciated three-year-old girl from the Kalma IDP camp in South Darfur, named Ihsan Adam Abdullah. She died last month.

Another photo shows an equally emaciated little boy from Genubia camp in Central Darfur. His mother, Fatima Mohamed Othman, recorded a video appealing for help to feed her 10 children – anything, she said, even “something small – they live between starvation and death”.

MSF is set to open a 50-bed tent hospital in Zamzam and is calling on other international humanitarian agencies to return to share the heavy humanitarian burden.

“We need a massive mobilization of humanitarian aid to reach isolated populations,” says Mr. Hussein, as well as access with “simplified permits and visas and open borders,” and respect for staff. humanitarian and civil. Infrastructure.

Without these fundamental conditions, it will not be possible to reverse the course of this colossal crisis and many more children will die.

Read more about the civil war in Sudan:

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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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