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Lack of Sanitation and Hygiene in Darfur Contributing to Deaths

Sudan, October 26, 2004

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    Despite the tremendous strides, the need for life-saving assistance to the displaced people is only growing. Photo: Casandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

In the dusty, crowded camps for people displaced in Zalingei, West Darfur, the living situation for the 58,000 new residents is almost unbearable. Children sit on the dirt ground covered with flies. They have long ago given up exerting the energy to swat them away. When the sun sets and the heat finally subsides, the mosquitoes come in swarms, carrying the deadly malaria virus.

In a rapid assessment of the camps in Zalingei conducted in August of this year by Mercy Corps, 90 percent of the camp residents surveyed reported cases of malaria, while 85 percent reported cases of diarrhea. The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that there has been a dramatic increase in Hepatitis E in Zalingei. From September 12 through October 9, there have been 449 new cases of Hepatitis E reported.

"There is a dire need for more hygiene materials such as soap, as well as washing facilities, latrines, proper waste disposal and general community training on hygiene issues," says Abdi Mohamud, Mercy Corps' Hygiene Promoter working in Darfur. "Many of the health problems residents have in the camps are avoidable with proper hygiene and sanitation and access to adequate clean drinking water."

Mercy Corps is actively working in Zalingei, Darfur to combat the outbreak of deadly water-related diseases by constructing latrines, digging shallow wells or boreholes to complement existing emergency water interventions, and carrying out an educational campaign to ensure camp residents understand the importance of good hygiene.

"Previously the people in the camps lived in open, rural areas where the population density was much lower and sanitation and hygiene was not a major issue," says Abdi Mohamud. "Now thousands of people are living side-by-side in makeshift tents and inadequate waste disposal and hygiene are life-threatening issues."

The water and environmental sanitation sector is greatly underserved in Zalingei. According to Mercy Corps' rapid assessment over 59 percent of the population are in need of clean drinking water, while 99 percent of the population are in need of sanitation facilities.

Abdul Jabbar Hakim is a resident of Hessa Hissa Camp in Zalingei and is working with Mercy Corps' assistance to build a latrine for his family. All of his nine children have experienced severe cases of diarrhea and other illnesses as a result of improper sanitation facilities.

"For the past three months we have lived here, we used the stream behind our tent for a toilet," says Mr. Hakim. "Now that Mercy Corps has provided us materials and training, we are building a toilet. I hope that it will help decrease the amount of flies and make my family healthier."

In addition to assisting with the building of thousands of latrines, Mercy Corps is carrying out a hygiene education campaign. To date, fifty people have been selected for hygiene promotion training in Hessa Hissa Camp, and are being trained in the appropriate use and maintenance of sanitation facilities; the safe disposal of human waste; the importance of hand-washing; clean water use and storage; and the control of flies and other insects.

After this program is completed, these newly trained hygiene promoters will work in their community to train the other residents. Another campaign is scheduled to begin in Hamedia Camp, the other major camp in Zalingei. With this program, funded by the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), Mercy Corps will serve 50,000 displaced people in Zalingei to ensure they have access to sufficient water and sanitation services.

Despite the tremendous strides being made by Mercy Corps and other aid organizations in Darfur, the need for life-saving assistance to the displaced people is only growing. According to a recent report by the United Nations some 150,000 people were counted as newly displaced in Darfur in September 2004 alone.