Thousands struggle to survive as Kalma aid cut off

NAIROBI, 12 August 2010 (IRIN) - Aid agencies are still barred from Kalma, the largest settlement for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan’s Southern Darfur State, 10 days after the government blocked the UN and NGOs from distributing food and medical aid to an estimated 82,000 IDPs.

Tensions in Kalma rose on 25 July, at the conclusion of the latest round of peace talks in Doha, Qatar, with some IDPs claiming they were not fully represented. Protests inside the camp pitted the detractors, mainly the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) of Abdul Wahid Mohamed el-Nur, against supporters of the negotiations.

Because of the unrest, six people, five men and a woman - all IDPs’ representatives in the camp and opponents of the peace talks – sought protection inside the premises of a community policing centre of the joint UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Officials in Darfur blamed UNAMID for being unable to keep the peace, and banned agencies from the camp on 2 August. They also asked UNAMID to hand over the six, suspected of taking part in clashes.

At a press conference in Khartoum on 9 August, the governor of South Darfur State, Abdel Hamid Musa Kasha, disclosed the government’s intention to close Kalma camp, describing it as a military base and political platform for the SLM.

On 11 August, at a meeting in Nyala, capital of South Darfur, between the Joint UN-AU Special Representative for Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari, and Sudanese government officials, joint patrols with UNAMID forces were discussed but no conclusion reached, senior UNAMID officials told IRIN.

Kalma IDPs have resisted the presence of Sudanese police inside the camp for six years. After the police tried to enter the camp, leaving 32 IDPs dead in August 2008, UNAMID established a police centre and organized patrols around the settlements to protect residents from nocturnal attacks by militias.

Thousands without food, water and medicine

According to Samuel Hendricks, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Darfur, supplies of drugs and medicine would need to be assessed to estimate how long they would last but lack of food was already a major concern.

“The last food distribution would have been at the beginning of July. Blanket feeding for children under five was scheduled to start at the beginning of August, and general food distribution this week, but it has all been prevented by lack of access to the settlement,” Hendricks told IRIN.

When 13 NGOs were expelled from Darfur in March 2009, Kalma residents went for three months without any food distribution. Only five NGOs remained until the latest ban.

“Obviously we would like to avoid a similar scenario [now],” Hendricks said.

As no official population census was carried out in 2009 in any of the IDP settlements in the Southern Darfur State (Kalma, Otash, As-Salaam, Mershing, Al-Serif, Beleil, Al-Sheref, Um Lubassa, Mossei, Sekele), the exact number of people in Kalma camp is unknown.

However, UN World Food Programme (WFP) sources said at least 82,000 people have been living the camp since 2003, having fled attacks by Sudanese forces and proxy militia.

Data concerning the scale and scope of the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Kalma is difficult to assess as journalists and independent observers have been barred since March 2009.

Water worries

Susannah Syrkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, a US-based organization promoting the monitoring of health-related human rights, told IRIN she was concerned about sanitation and hygiene in Kalma because of the serious drainage problem during the rainy season.

The camp has 20 motorized water pumps and 28 hand-held pumps, with a total delivery capacity of 1,700m3 per day. The government blockade has also led to a fuel shortage for motorized pumps, and according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), fuel supplies ran out on 7 August.

Syrkin told IRIN that in 2009, when Kalma residents refused aid from the government in protest at the expulsion of international agencies, there was not enough fuel for the main motorized water pumps, forcing IDPs to use the “few dozen” hand pumps available and the nearby polluted river for their water supply.