Home | News    Friday 13 August 2004

Malaria reported in squalid Darfur refugee camps

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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Aug 13 (Reuters) - Malaria has broken out among Sudanese in Darfur who lack clean water and latrines in squalid refugee camps, aid agencies said on Friday.

The mosquito-borne disease comes early on in the rainy season, which has given insects a breeding ground, and follows a hepatitis epidemic reported earlier this week.

The United Nations estimates 50,000 people have died in conflict since fighting began in early 2003, while around 1.2 million people have been displaced and 2 million left short of food and medicine.

The ICRC reported outbreaks of diseases including malaria at sites including the Abshok camp near El Fasher in North Darfur.

"The main illnesses affecting the displaced population are diarrhoea, malaria and acute respiratory infections," it said in a statement, without giving figures. Cholera is also feared.

"At the clinic run by the ICRC in Abshok camp, the most recurrent diagnoses are malaria (20 percent) ... and respiratory infections (13 percent)...," the Swiss-based relief agency said.

The World Health Organisation, which this week reported an epidemic of hepatitis E in West Darfur with 623 cases and 22 deaths, said dirty water and poor sanitation remained problems.

"We are advocating more work on water and sanitation. It is very important to identify the source of hepatitis and eliminate it," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told Reuters.

Hepatitis, a liver inflammation caught from dirty water or food, mainly strikes young adults. It can cause up to five per cent mortality but is four times more fatal for pregnant women.

WATER PROBLEMS

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), reporting on a three-week evaluation of 18 camps, called for better coordination of aid efforts.

"Conditions are drastic. People are not getting enough water. Teams must be put together to clean latrines as it is very ad hoc now and not really managed by anyone," IOM spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro told a news briefing.

In three main settlements around El Geneina, displaced people received an average of four litres of water per person per day, against seven deemed minimum, and people had to walk over 400 metres (yards) to reach water points.

A revolt broke out in western Sudan in early 2003 among villagers who speak African languages. The government turned to the existing Janjaweed militias, drawn from the nomadic Arab population, as auxiliary forces to suppress the rebels.

Rebels and human rights organisations say the Janjaweed, who have long competed with the settled population for land, went on a rampage, setting fire to villages, killing, raping and driving more than a million people off their land.

Aid agencies said women and girls were often raped by marauding militia when they leave the camps in search of water.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday said it had increasing reports of rapes and that Sudanese authorities continued to press displaced to return to "unsafe" villages.

Under a Plan of Action agreed with the U.N. last week, Sudan pledged to set up safe areas for the displaced, disarm the Arab militias and cease military operations to ease what the U.N. has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

"We would still say that conditions for return of internally displaced persons are not suitable. UNHCR has very strict benchmarks and they have not yet been met," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told a briefing on Friday.

ICRC spokesman Marco Jimenez Rodriguez said that the agency had not witnessed people being forced home.

"We are maintaining contacts with authorities to remind them that they can’t force people back and that any return should be voluntary with guarantees of security," he told Reuters.

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