SUDAN WATCH: Notes from Kalma (Paul Currion)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Notes from Kalma (Paul Currion)

Thanks to VOGP Lisa Rogoff for pointing to Paul Currion's Notes from Kalma March 1 2006:
I just spent the morning in Kalma IDP camp, because I thought it was important to get a better idea of the operation here. Otherwise I'm in danger of getting a little bit too fixated on this assessment, and issues like telecoms provision, monitoring and evaluation, staff orientation, etc.

As we approached the camp, I remembered that it was exactly 10 years ago that I visited my first refugee camp, the colossal Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania. Kalma is very similar to Benaco - with just under 100,000 residents, it's the size of a town. Like a town, it has a huge requirement for basic services - water and sanitation, health care, education, and so on - which is where the UN agencies and NGOs come in. One of the dangers of these large-scale camps is that they may become semi-permanent, as IDPs resign themselves to the prospect of no return him (in this case, while the Janjaweed are still active), creating new problems of integration.

For their part, the IDP communities aren't passive. Well-stocked markets can be found all over the camp, and people pursue their trades if they're able to. Shaikhs continue to lead their communities, mediating both within the community, with other communities in the camp, and with international organisations working there. Unfortunately, some degree of disempowerment and dependence is almost inevitable for the displaced. In this case, the IDPs are definitely not in control of their security; although the African Union patrol the camps regularly, and escort expeditions to gather fuelwood outside the camp, the Janjaweed operate with relative impunity in the area.

Given the size of the camp, it's probably the largest place that many of the IDPs have ever lived, given that most of them come from small villages. This in itself creates problems, since ways of life that may work in small rural communities may not be appropriate for a peri-urban settlement like Kalma. In particular, I saw the same problem around Kalma as there was around Benaco; massive levels of deforestation, with the land around the camp looking like the surface of the moon (admittedly with more plastic bags and other litter).

The environmental impact of a camp the size of Kalma is enormous. The longer the camp remains, the wider the circle of deforestation grows, on land that is already marginal. The water requirements of the IDPs can be a huge drain on the water table, although this is harder to see, and one dry rainy season could be disastrous. The combined impact is an increase in the rate of desertification that already affects many African countries across the Sahel.

All this begs the question of why the UN and NGOs don't recruit more people with environmental management experience. For example, most of the water and sanitation staff that we recruit are either engineers (to drill boreholes and build latrines) or public health experts (to educate people on hygiene issues) - seldom people with experience of water resource management. It's much easier to sink more wells and pump more water than it is to assess the impact of those wells on the overall environment - yet, in the long term (and Kalma looks long-term to me right now) - that's exactly what's needed if the region is to survive.

You can find a map of Kalma [pdf, 290kb] on the HIC Darfur website - I was mainly hanging around in sector 7.


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