Health risks for people in the Greater Darfur region: the cocktail of environmental hazards

Flood waters

It’s the rainy season in Darfur and these seasonal rains often cause flooding in the camps. Stagnant floodwater in and around camps is undesirable for several reasons. First, floodwaters, which may contain disease-causing pathogens, can contaminate well water by entering the wells when wellheads become submerged. Second, stagnant water increases the risk of malaria.

Collection of wood

In the camps, wood is collected for cooking. In such densely populated areas as camps, the collection of firewood can take a tremendous toll on the nearby environment. In addition, a competition for natural resources can lead to friction between the displaced population and the host population. As natural resources near the camp become more depleted, displaced people, particularly women and girls, may need to venture further away from camp perimeters putting them at risk for abuse and assault.

Population density has dramatically changed in some locations in Darfur. For example, the village of Mornei in West Darfur, which was originally populated by 5,000 people, ballooned to over 70,000 people as a result of the recent conflict.

Defecation in the field

Traditionally, people may be accustomed to defecating in open areas and this practice is continuing in or near camps because of a lack of adequate sanitation facilities. Latrine facilities should be adequate in number and design and properly cleaned and maintained to facilitate their use. Hygiene education and promotion regarding latrine use and maintenance is crucial. If defecation fields are temporarily used, they must be carefully identified so that water supply sources are protected from contamination from the field.

Digging trench latrines

Community mobilization is vital if people are to take ownership, responsibility, and pride in their water supply and sanitation facilities. Including and empowering women is also vital because the primary responsibility of household environmental activities often fall upon women. Females within a household play a pivotal role in every aspect of environmental health, including the hauling and storage of water, food preparation, gathering fire wood, latrine construction, cleaning of the children, and upkeep of the household environment.

WHO in the field

WHO continues to host outbreak control meetings with representatives of the state government, UN agencies, and NGOs to curtail the current hepatitis E infection and to prepare in the event of cholera or other disease outbreaks. These meetings have been critical for linking disease outbreak and control efforts. In some locations in Darfur, water and sanitation sector coordination has involved designating specific NGO partners as camp focal points for leading disease control efforts. These measures include water supply improvements, particularly chlorination and hygiene promotion activities.

WHO has and will continue to support the efforts of State Ministries of Health and other partners with supplies and equipment for environmental health related activities including water bladders, chlorine, water quality monitoring equipment, and vector control supplies.

The task at hand is great indeed. Humanitarian efforts are faced with the tremendous challenge of raising money and mobilizing human resources to provide clean water supplies, basic sanitation services and crucial hygiene education messages to over one million internally displaced persons.

For more information contact:

Fadéla Chaib
Telephone: +41 22 791 3228
Fax: +41 22 791 4181

Yvette Bivigou
Telephone: +249 912 167 501