(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Thousands of IDPs dying every month - WHO

[Sudan] Malnourished child in al-Junaynah, Western Darfur, July 2004.
Claire Mc Evoy/IRIN

Between 6,000 to 10,000 of an estimated 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the troubled western Sudanese region of Darfur are dying every month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday. Many of those who die are children aged five and under, it added.

A survey done by the WHO and the Sudanese government showed that mortality rates had surpassed the mark that aid agencies use to define a humanitarian crisis - which is one death per 10,000 people per day. The survey found that the IDPs were dying at a rate of 1.5 per 10,000 people each day in North Darfur, and 2.9 per 10,000 in West Darfur, WHO said in a statement.

"This survey confirms what the humanitarian community has suspected for some weeks," LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO, said. "The results, along with the other information gathered by our staff, tell us that the people in Darfur need more assistance."

"Thousands, including thousands of children under five, are dying every month from diseases which can be easily prevented and treated. Increased and better focused action is now vital," he added.

According to WHO, the survey found that diarrhoea in particular was linked to the deaths of half to three-quarters of children under five. "Diarrhoea is often caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation," it noted.

"The combination of crowded conditions in the settlements, shortage of clean water, inadequate latrines, insufficient soap, and the mire caused by rain-soaked mud mingling with excreta, have combined to make hygiene an impossible goal for people living in small, tarpaulin-covered huts," it added.

Some households reported deaths due to violence - particularly among men aged 15 to 49 years. WHO said injuries and violence were linked to 15 percent of total deaths. "This data indicates the continuing need to improve health referral services in Darfur, so that people who are injured can be treated with adequate supplies and expertise in health clinics and hospitals," it noted.

Describing the precarious health situation in the 129 camps housing IDPs in Darfur, WHO said its environmental engineers had found a "cocktail of environmental hazards that are set to cause more casualties and human suffering, particularly to women", such as unprotected water wells and limited use of water for personal hygiene. The situation had got worse with the onset of current rains which had caused flooding in the camps.

Population density had also dramatically increased in some locations. For example, the village of Mornei in West Darfur, which originally had a population of 5,000 people, now had more than 70,000 people as a result of the recent conflict.

Apart from the 1.2 million IDPs in Darfur, another 200,000 have fled over the border into neighbouring Chad because of attacks by the Janjawid militia and because of fighting between government soldiers and rebels. According to the UN, Darfur is experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

On Monday, NGOs said tens of thousands of new IDPs, fleeing renewed violence in South Darfur, had arrived at the Gereida camp, 100 km south of the town of Nyala. "The camp population increased from 10,000 to 40,000 within seven days," Gemma Swart, Oxfam Canada communications officer in Sudan, told IRIN. "There was increased violence in the rural areas around Gereida which led to people fleeing their homes and coming into the camp."

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