‘WE don’t have blankets so I have to cover my children with my wrap at night as it is so cold.’
Khadia Abdullar Kabir is nurturing her children as best she can in a camp on the outskirts of Darfur province in Western Sudan after fleeing a rebel attack on her village.
Her story is no different to thousands of others, and now Australian Catholics are being asked to help avoid a humanitarian tragedy.
Churches in Australia are responding to the dire situation in Sudan which has been described by the United Nations and aid agencies as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The UN Security Council has described the situation as one of ethnic cleansing through the use of mass rape, summary killing and a ‘scorched earth’ policy.
Christian World Service (CWS), a commission of the National Council of Churches in Australia, is making an initial contribution of $15,000 to an appeal by Caritas International and Action by Churches Together (ACT International).
The aim of the appeal is to provide shelter, water, sanitation, basic sleeping and kitchen materials for people in camps and burned out villages in Darfur province.
The program also aims to provide supplementary food rations to 50,000 children under five and education for school-aged children.
A CWS spokesman said Darfur province was home to 6 million nomads and farmers. He said it was estimated there are more than 2 million people in Darfur affected by civil conflict and in need of emergency support.
Caritas Australia estimates that more than half the 1.2 million Sudanese who have fled Darfur due to violent assaults by Arab militia are in urgent need of support.
A massive aid operation has already started in Darfur.
The British Catholic overseas aid agency CAFOD, through its partners in Sudan, is leading the operation which is part of a A$25 million joint appeal by Caritas and Action by Churches Together (ACT) in response to the Darfur emergency.
The appeal known as ACDER (ACT/Caritas Darfur Emergency Response) has already sent two plane loads of aid to Nyala in the south of Darfur where an operations base has been set up to distribute the support.
Fiona Callister, who is working with the international Caritas organisation, said the world needed to act to provide shelter, supplies, clean water and sanitation to avoid the disaster.
She has visited the town of Zalingi in western Darfur where 70,000 people, driven from their homes by the conflict, have fled.
‘Living conditions are abysmal with families crammed into camps.
‘People are dying from hunger malnutrition, dehydration and measles.
‘There are just too many people trying to survive on too little of everything.
‘There isn’t enough food, clean water, shelter or sanitation to cope with the thousands of homeless people who have poured into the town,’ she said.
Caritas said half the people were crammed into school compounds and public buildings in the town.
Others were in camps on the outskirts of the town while others were waiting for new camps to be built.
Caritas said work was already underway with two truck loads of blankets, clothing and soap being distributed to families in Zalingi.
Ms Callister said many of the people in the camps were badly traumatised by being raped and injured in attacks by the rebels who drove them from their homes.
‘A couple of camps have been built by our partners who have managed to set up two schools and a clinic, but they are fighting against the tide.
‘One camp houses 17,000 people who are all crammed together, often with 15 people sleeping in makeshift shelters.’
Ms Callister has spoken to many women who fled the violence with their children and nothing but the cloths on their backs.
Khadia Abdullah Kabir arrived in April with her four children and is still without basic necessities. She walked for three days to reach safety.
‘I was attacked in my village and then they burnt down the village which is why we came here.
‘I brought nothing with me apart from one small cooking pot.
‘Five people were killed in my village and more than 10 were injured.
‘We are eating only wheat cooked in water because we have no money to buy anything else.
‘I have lots of needs, I need more plastic sheeting so that I can cover our whole hut.
‘I need food and some clothes. I only have these clothes that I am wearing.’
Those clothes include the wrap she uses each night to cover her four children from the cold.
Halima Ishag is one of the new arrivals in her camp. It took her 10 days to walk to safety.
Her shelter consists of a few branches that still have leaves on them and an old grass mat with holes.
She met her daughter Zeinab Bakhit and granddaughter Zubeida Mohammed along the way.
Zubeida is six years old but Fiona Callister said she looks little more than three, a fact her mother and grandmother attribute to illness.
Halima is already working at feeding her family weaving a basket to sell for money to buy food.
‘I arrived yesterday from my village Hashaba.
‘I left because I was hungry and caught in the war between people.
‘I was hungry because all the sorghum I had was taken by the Janjaweed [the rebels] – everything I had was taken by them.
‘All I have left are these two bowls, and one cup and this small bag of flour.
‘The Janjaweed came to my village four times.
‘When they came they started killing and beating people, driving them out of their homes and taking their things.
‘They killed about nine people from my village and two were wounded with gun shots.
‘My village used to have about 25 people.
‘I don’t have any proper shelter because I am one of the new comers to this camp.
Halima expects it to take about 20 days to complete her basket.
‘It will be a big basket and I will sell it for about 200 Sudanese Dinars [about A$1.10]
Another new arrival, Khaltoum Adam Mohammed, has a shelter of four sticks with a few rags on top to protect herself and her seven children from the elements.
‘I arrived a few days ago after spending a few weeks in the mountains with my children.
‘I came here because my village is not safe and there is nothing there.
‘The Janjaweed killed my husband in February.
‘We were safe in the hills but we came here because we were hungry and suffering from lack of water.
‘I brought nothing with me as when we were in the hills we lived on the small amount of food I managed to take with me from my village.’
All three women and their children now feel safe in the camps.
Caritas Australia is asking for urgent support from donors to help Sudanese with similar stories to Khaltoum, Khadia and Halima.
Donations can be made by phoning Caritas Australia on 1800 024 413.