West Darfur: "We are looking at a second catastrophe" - an interview with Jean-Hervé Bradol
© firstname.lastname@example.org Click image for larger view "The relief effort needs to be sped up - bring in more food, build up food stocks. It has started but it is too slow to be effective. Unless there is a change of scale, we are looking at a second catastrophe. The first was the intense violence and now we face a second because of the shortage of assistance for a very weak population affected by epidemics and high malnutrition rates." You just returned from West Darfur. What were your impressions of the situation? "The first catastrophe was the severity of the violence people endured, and the impact of this violence on the global health status of the population, the indirect consequences of such violence and the forced displacement of people. There are already high rates of malnutrition and continuing high mortality - it's already very worrying. For example, one child of every five in Mornay suffers from acute malnutrition. "Then there is the fact that violence is continuing around the camps. Pro-government militias frequently attack people -mainly women and young girls - when they go outside the camp. Many were raped. Since a lot of the men are missing - they were either killed or they fled to other parts of the country - women have to maintain the whole group. Authorities in some areas are even talking about relocating people back to their destroyed villages. "I stopped in Sisi camp, on the road from El Genina to Mornay. Men gathered around the car to greet us. I asked the translator to ask them if they wanted to go home. They pointed a few hundred feet away and said, 'We can't even go over there because we are attacked. We can't even think about going back home.' These were real men living under threat." How does this ongoing violence affect people's ability to survive? "Even with such weak relief, they could find coping mechanisms to improve their situation because they know the area. But they can't use these because they are raped or beaten if they go out. This form of violence does not only affect the individual women, but children and elders will die because these women will not be in any condition to save their families. It also makes people even more dependent on external relief, and the relief is slow, irregular and not dependable." What will the onset of the rainy season do to these efforts? "The situation will deteriorate both in terms of the logistics for food supply, but also in terms of epidemics - the seasonal malarial peak is around the corner, and with no latrines, there could be cholera, dysentery, any type of major epidemics. When you think of the global magnitude of the problem - we are talking about one million displaced people - we are afraid tens of thousands of lives could be lost." What needs to be done? "The relief effort needs to be sped up - bring in more food, build up food stocks. It has started but it is too slow to be effective. Unless there is a change of scale, we are looking at a second catastrophe. The first was the intense violence and now we face a second because of the shortage of assistance for a very weak population affected by epidemics and high malnutrition rates." How can this 'change of scale' come about? "Looking at the conditions, heavy logistics are needed - food, transportation, storage, food airdrops in some places. If this can be done in the civilian sector, fine. Otherwise, to guarantee the correct flux of aid, mainly food, people in charge will have to consider huge means. "I've been involved in emergencies for 20 years, and it seems like the food, water and sanitation, and medical needs can't be covered, especially with the added burdens of violence and rains. Honestly, MSF can't cope with all of the medical needs that will arise. The WFP tries what they can. But it isn't clear if they can cover the operations they have planned. WFP could use strong back up from other powerful players, especially in logistics. "A camp like Mornay needs 1,200 tons of food every month. West Darfur as a whole needs 300 tons of food everyday in a kind of permanent supply line, while heavy rains will cut off roads and sometimes the airport. It is going to be a nightmare and unless there is a change in terms of scale it will be a failure."