The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator, Andrew Natsios, visited West Darfur where he was warmly welcomed by Mercy Corps staff working in the camps for displaced people in Zalingei. Natsios, with a delegation of USAID and US Embassy staff, arrived in Zalingei on Thursday via helicopter on a whirlwind tour of Darfur. This is his third visit to Sudan this year.
Pete Sweetnam, Mercy Corps' Emergency Program Officer in Zalingei was pleased with his visit to Darfur. "It keeps attention on the Darfur issue and the state of the people here," says Sweetnam. "And it means that decision makers in the US will have first-hand information from people who have been on the ground and seen the extremely difficult conditions the Darfurians are living in."
The crisis in Darfur has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Zalingei, located in a remote area of west Darfur, is a region where more than 58,000 displaced villagers have gathered in search of safety and assistance. It is also an area where there are critical gaps in humanitarian assistance.
Some of the most critical gaps are in the areas of sanitation, shelter, and the provision of non-food items (such as cooking utensils, hygiene kits, floor mats and bedding). Despite the work that has already begun by Mercy Corps and other humanitarian aid organizations, only ten percent of the displaced people in Zalingei camp have access to latrines and less than half have adequate shelter.
Mercy Corps is actively implementing a water and sanitation program that includes the construction of thousands of latrines and educating the camp residents on basic hygiene to prevent the outbreak of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, malaria and scabies. Mercy Corps is also waiting for funding to begin a major distribution of plastic sheeting, and basic household and hygiene kits to up to 50,000 people.
During Natsios' visit, he toured the Hessa Hissa camp and met with displaced children who attend a makeshift school in the camp. Mercy Corps has provided basic school supplies and recreational equipment to the children and partnered with other aid organizations to ensure that the children in the camps have access to education.