Helping Sudan refugees struggle on
BAHAI, Chad (CNN) -- Millions may die in the Darfur region of Sudan as a result of fighting between the Sudanese government, allied militias and rebel groups unless there is an immediate outpouring of international aid, the World Health Organization has warned.
In the final instalment of his diary, Peter Biro, a 37-year-old Swede working for the International Rescue Committee at Bahai, near Chad's northeastern border with Sudan, describes the humanitarian organization's emergency response efforts.
On Sunday, May 16, I drive to Cariari, an hour north of Bahai by car, where the IRC is working to dig wells and revive existing ones, amid severe shortages of clean water. Cariari, in spite of its forbidding landscape, is currently home to thousands of refugees who have to walk six hours in either direction to find drinking water.
Without much of a warning, a sandstorm blew in, instantly turning everything to a brown and yellow haze. Spiky bushes tumbled across the dunes and the sun was barely visible.
Our four-wheel drive fought its way through the sandy mist and now and again ghost-like silhouettes of people appeared out of nowhere, struggling across the desert with clay jars or buckets on their heads.
My mouth was gritty from the sand and my clothes and skin had turned light brown by the time we arrived. We parked next to a tree, where a camel was lying motionless.
In the middle of this dry wasteland, I find my colleague Abdel Majid and his team of well-diggers.
This place may seem to most, an impractical spot to be searching for water, but the IRC team had learned that the area gets flooded during the rainy season so we suspected we might find water here.
Sure enough, it took five men two days to dig one cubic meter (this is no easy task in sand). They had struck water just as I had arrived. It was cause for celebration, or at least something to eat.
They invite me to share a meal under a makeshift shelter. On a charcoal bed in the sand the men have cooked a porridge made up of sorghum, a type of millet, and a thick sauce from tomato powder and nut oil. It's surprisingly tasty.
The storm is abating as I return to Bahai in the early evening to report news of the well and progress with other water supply projects in Cariari. The sky soon turns a magnificent gradient of pink, deep purple and black with a million stars.
Dots of light fill the plain as thousands of refugees start fires for the night. I strike up a conversation with a group of people nearby who are seated around a flickering fire. They are part of a community of 300 people that crossed into Chad the previous day. They had come from the Sudanese village of Amburu, some 150 kilometres inside Darfur. It was attacked two weeks earlier, they said, by the government-backed Janjaweed militia.
One man, who said his name was Muhammed Haroun, said heavily armed men riding camels and horses rode into the village and began shooting in all directions at the well. He said the Janjaweed killed villagers execution-style and raped several women. They all said their livestock was stolen.
More than 1.2 million people in the Darfur region have been displaced by the fighting, U.N. says.
Next to him sat Hadiya Adem. She is in her forties and has a gunshot wound on her right foot, wrapped in dirty gauze.
Hadiya told me that she and a girl from the village went to the well at night to get some water a few days before the big attack and was startled and frightened when they were confronted there by men from the Sudanese Army. The men seized the girl and shot Hadiya in the foot when she tried to stop them.
The refugees served me a cup of sweet tea and we drank in silence. By this time, the sun had completely disappeared.
And in spite of the thousands of people surrounding us, huddled around fires to keep warm in the chilly night air, you could have heard a needle drop.