Famine stalks Darfur refugees: 10,000 a month may soon die

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The Independent Online

Buye Khadir had no idea what would become of her tiny garden in Darfur when she grabbed her children and ran as fast as she could from the Janjaweed who attacked her village early this year.

Buye Khadir had no idea what would become of her tiny garden in Darfur when she grabbed her children and ran as fast as she could from the Janjaweed who attacked her village early this year.

She left all her seeds, tools and pots behind but, even after she found refuge at a camp in neighbouring Chad, she worried constantly about how her family would manage to rebuild their lives if they could return.

After months of fretting, Buye asked her eldest daughter to look after her four other children, borrowed a donkey and some seeds, and walked for six days back to Darfur to till her land. After her planting is done, she will walk back to the camp and hope that she will be able to gather the harvest later.

"I needed to plant my garden," she said, sitting among the war-ravaged ruins of her village. "Otherwise, even if peace comes, what will we eat?"

Buye's fears turned out to have been justified. Yesterday, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a stark warning that "most rural communities in north, west and south Darfur are facing an unprecedented food crisis, worse even than the famines they faced in the 1980s and 1990s".

The Janjaweed militias destroyed grain stores and wells, and stole the goats, camels and cattle. Villagers ran away, leaving fields untended, and have been too frightened to return. The Red Cross estimates that villagers have been able to plant a third of their normal crop.

Darfur is one of the most fertile regions in Sudan but the fighting in the past 18 months has destroyed the carefully balanced farming system. When the harvest is gathered next month, there will not be enough food to go around.

Already, people who would have grown their own food have to buy it at the market. The prices of basics such as millet and sorghum has risen threefold in the past year. Many who lost their savings and possessions in the Janjaweed attacks cannot afford to buy food. They have survived by gathering wild berries and seeds. The most common food is mati - a grain that fills the stomach but offers no nutritional value. Women, on average, walked 10 days to gather enough mati to feed their families for a week.

Mura Ganu is a typical case. "The Janjaweed took my camels, my donkeys - they left me with nothing," he said. "I went to the mountains with my family and for six months we ate nothing but mati. We were always vomiting and had pains in our stomachs."

More than 70,000 people have been killed as a result of fighting in Darfur, and the World Health Organisation estimates that an additional 10,000 a month will die from malnutrition or health-related problems.

The Red Cross plans to distribute seeds and tools for the next planting season, between May and July 2005. For people such as Mura Ganu, that time cannot come soon enough. "My youngest boy is not growing properly. I used to have 50 camels, 300 sheep, countless cattle. Now I cannot even give my son a glass of milk."

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