"We have returned home to nothing"
“We are finally home, but we have come back to nothing,” said Kakuma, a Fur woman in her forties from Tala, a village in Boori valley in Darfur’s Jebel Marra region. Kakuma fled Tala with her six children when the area was attacked last year. “Everything we owned and had to leave behind was looted: livestock, food, pots and pans. We fled several times, as the danger kept catching up with us,” she said.
Residents of the Boori area fled in 2016 after fighting broke out between the Government and the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army. Residents are now returning to empty villages, their belongings looted.
“When we returned to Tala, our home village, my two sons left hoping to find work in Geneina (the capital of west Darfur), as there is nothing here,” continued Kakuma. “My other children are in school. We have little food, and the water we have will dry up in a few weeks. We have to walk several hours to Golo town to see a doctor, and soon we will have to go there to fetch water also.”
Since 2003, Darfur has been affected by conflict between the Government and armed opposition groups, and by intercommunal conflict over issues such as land and water. In Darfur, an estimated 2.3 million people are displaced and need assistance. Some of them have been displaced and living in camps for more than 10 years.
Kakuma added: “We were not able to cultivate our fields last year. The fertile fields lie fallow as far as the eye can see. We managed to harvest some dry grass from the terraced hillsides for fodder, so those of us who still own a few animals can feed them. But as we weren’t here, we couldn’t grow food for ourselves.”
Boori is the largest village in the valley. There are 14 other villages nearby, including Tala, which is 1 km away and sits on top of a cliff. The valley was cut off from humanitarian assistance due to the fighting, and it lacks the very basics—water provision, sanitation services, schools and health clinics—that people need to resettle and rebuild their lives.
Humanitarian agencies were unable to access Boori and Golo for more than five years, but access was re-established in late 2016. Last month, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Darfur, Amy Martin, visited Boori with the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur to assess the priority needs. But everything is needed: schools, health services, water, food, support groups for women, and support to get people back into farming and other work. The nearby fields are scattered with remnants of war, which means farming is impossible in many areas.
Humanitarians from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are stepping up their response efforts. Golo hospital has received medical supplies, and Government medical staff now work there. The international NGO International Medical Corps is running the hospital’s health and nutrition departments, while the State Ministry of Education, with support from UNICEF, is rehabilitating classrooms and delivering education supplies to schools.
Registration of returnees has started in Golo in order to identify how many people need assistance and in what form. But one thing is clear: it will take years for people to fully recover and rebuild their lives following the latest bout of conflict in Darfur.