As instability worsens in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, Mercy Corps has expanded its commitment to families in need.
Mercy Corps recently began programs at a fourth location, near Sudan's border with Chad. As a result, the agency is now serving 150,000 people displaced by violence, including more than 14,000 seeking refuge in one of Darfur's westernmost areas.
Through its Emergency Assistance to Vulnerable Populations program, Mercy Corps has been providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to families for almost three years. The situation in Darfur remains dire: at least 2.5 million people remain displaced, many of whom were forced to flee their villages when militias attacked them. Thousands have lost family members. All of them have left the life they once knew behind.
The reality of life in Darfur's displacement camps is grim: thousands of families are cramped together in a relatively small space with scarce natural resources and limited income opportunities. They're places where even the most courageous and determined people can quickly lose hope.
Mercy Corps is helping displaced people not just survive, but thrive.
Keeping the water flowing
One critical component of our programs in Darfur is access to clean water. Mercy Corps is working to ensure that families have sufficient water for household needs and don't have to travel far to fill water containers. Currently, our programs are supplying 87 percent of families' daily water needs in the camps where we work.
Sanitation is also critical to keeping families in displacement camps healthy. Mercy Corps recruits and trains hygiene promoters to spread important health-related messages through household visits and community meetings. Between October and December 2006, hygiene promoters around the city of Zalingei made 9,000 home visits, met with 210 community leaders, conducted 720 focus group discussions and made more than 1,000 informal presentations in public areas. This outreach encourages proper use and maintenance of latrines, personal hygiene, food safety and water conservation.
A recent survey of three camps around Zalingei indicated that an average of 89 percent of camp residents are using latrines - a significant increase from the time Mercy Corps began operations in the area. This practice helps keep preventable disease and waterborne illness from infiltrating already-vulnerable populations.
Working together for a cleaner environment
Displaced individuals are also volunteering to keep their environment cleaner. Camp residents clean their neighborhoods on a regular basis, transporting waste and refuse to landfills that are located well away from homes and water sources. When these landfills are full, Mercy Corps facilitates talks between community leaders and camp residents to identify and excavate a new landfill site. This work not only helps provide a safer, cleaner environment, but also encourages collaboration between displaced families and the communities that host them - a remarkable development in the midst of the Darfur conflict.
As the number of displaced families continues to grow by the day, Mercy Corps is finding ways to better serve their most basic needs. By helping provide clean water and ensure better hygiene, we're making life more bearable for families who would like nothing better than to return home.