A £175,000 difference: how your cash helped the refugees of Darfur

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The Independent Online

Halima Yayah Omar and her five children have a waterproof roof over their heads for the first time in six months. Thanks to the generosity of Independent readers, who have so far raised £174,390 for our Darfur appeal, 1,000 Sudanese families in the camp of Aro Sharrow have been given shelter, food and sanitation by the relief agency Concern.

Halima Yayah Omar and her five children have a waterproof roof over their heads for the first time in six months. Thanks to the generosity of Independent readers, who have so far raised £174,390 for our Darfur appeal, 1,000 Sudanese families in the camp of Aro Sharrow have been given shelter, food and sanitation by the relief agency Concern.

Mrs Omar and the other black African Sudanese families fled to the camp to escape the wave of ethnic cleansing by marauding Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, unleashed by the Sudanese government.

But until two weeks ago, humanitarian agencies were denied access to the remote camp, on a desolate plain near the border with Chad. With the rains setting in, the farming families could erect only makeshift homes from brushwood, open to the elements. Now the camp has been transformed, and the white tarpaulin-covered huts are surrounded by lines of fencing.

A spokesman for Concern said yesterday that much of the money from Independent readers had been distributed in Aro Sharrow, a "difficult" area which until two weeks ago was still being raided by the Janjaweed. Families in the camp still fear the marauders, who burnt their villages and raped the women. Five people who went home to a nearby village were killed. And in the camps of western Darfur, women are getting up at 2am to collect firewood under cover of darkness to minimise the chance of encountering Janjaweed rapists.

Dominic MacSorley, Concern's emergency co-ordinator based in the western Darfur provincial capital of El Geneina, said his team cheered when they were told yesterday how much the Independent appeal had raised.

Farmers in Aro Sharrow have watched the rains in consternation. The region has been stricken with drought for the past two years, but "because they are not planting, the rains are useless", Mr MacSorley said. The rains also hamper the aid effort, with supplies now having to be flown in from Europe and Ethiopia in small lots rather than trucked in larger quantities through the country. The funds raised by the appeal are being spent on items such as the £40 kits, containing poles, tarpaulin and grass matting, which allow families to build themselves a temporary home. The displaced people also get survival packs, with essentials such as water containers, cooking pots and soap.

Proper sanitation is vital in preventing the spread of diseases such as dysentry, typhoid and cholera. Here, £35 buys the material for a latrine to be shared by four families.

Mr MacSorley said public donations could be used quickly, but money from government donors took time to negotiate. Over the past two months in western Darfur, Concern has used public donations to provide blankets, jerrycans, cooking pots, and sleeping mats for 5,000 families. And now that the Sudanese government has improved access to the camps under Western pressure, the relief agencies have been stepping up operations. Concern now has 15 international staff and 45 national staff on the ground in Darfur.

But only so much can be done to alleviate the plight of the Sudanese people who have been caught in what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian disaster. A total of 1.4 million people have been forced to flee the government-sponsored crackdown that followed a rebellion by the region's black African farmers 18 months ago. About 50,000 people have been killed and 300,000 have fled across the border to camps in neighbouring Chad.

Behind the humanitarian crisis lies a political dispute, focusing on land and resources in the western region. Ensuring security so refugees and displaced people can return to their homes, and beyond that, agreement on a political solution for Darfur, depends on the will of the politicians.

Robert Ffolkes, the acting programme director of Save the Children, said: "The need is immense. The children of Darfur are suffering from wide-spread malnutrition and easily treatable health problems. We are working hard to meet the needs of those children in the region but without increased security, they will continue to be the most vulnerable victims of this crisis. Save the Children UK urges all parties to reach a political resolution to the situation in Darfur as soon as possible."

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