Sauver Le Darfour dans le monde

More than 80 infants die each day in Darfur of poor health, UNICEF says

Cbc News, 06 Octobre 2006

Myriam Ibrahim does not like to talk about her daughter Fawzia. The smallest of triplet girls born in May, the infant died last month in Darfur. Now, the 28-year-old mother has just a week of powdered milk for her two remaining babies - and no idea how she will feed them afterward.

"Fawzia started having fever, then diarrhea, and then she died. It was a month ago," Ibrahim said with the soft, sad smile so common to Darfurian women as they recount their survival.

Each day in Darfur, 80 children under age five die because of malnutrition, disease and generally poor living conditions created by violence in this barren region of western Sudan, the UN Children's Fund estimates.

When Ibrahim gave birth to her triplets in May, stress and lack of food left her with no milk of her own for her daughters.

Fawzia weighed barely three pounds and was being fed liquid protein through a tube in her nose when an Associated Press reporter met with the family in June at a hospital in El Fasher, North Darfur's capital.

After emergency care at the hospital, the triplets and their mother went back to their hometown of Mellit, about 50 kilometres north.

But when Ibrahim, who has three other children, returned to Mellit, the violence in the region had driven off aid workers, and she was among some 350,000 people who were deprived of any medical or food aid.

Thirteen humanitarian workers were killed over the summer due to rebel infighting and a large government offensive.

"Lack of access and the humanitarian pullout likely means that child mortality is going to go up again rapidly," said Jonathan Vietch, the UNICEF emergency chief for Sudan.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in three years of fighting between the government and rebels in Darfur.

An ill-equipped and understaffed African Union peacekeeping force has tried without success to quell the violence. Meanwhile, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has repeatedly rejected allowing a stronger UN peacekeeping force to replace the AU troops.

Aid workers, who began to return to Mellit in late September, said Thursday they did not know what killed Fawzia, but believed the baby could have been saved if they had been able to reach her town earlier.

When Mellit was cut off from humanitarian aid, Ibrahim said she rationed powdered milk for the triplets. Her surviving babies, Fayrous and Fardous, are in reasonably good health, but Ibrahim said she only has enough milk left to last a week.

Awatif Khalil, a visiting government nutritionist, said Mellit's clinic does not have money for powdered milk.

"It's up to parents to buy it in pharmacies in El Fasher," she said.

But Ibrahim's husband and the babies' father, Ahmed Adem, said he could not afford to travel to El Fasher with the little money he makes selling fruits.

"Anyhow, the road is still much too unsafe to go to El Fasher," he added.

A German humanitarian group working with the World Food Program recently dropped some aid in Mellit, a tense town guarded by several Sudanese army check points.

But future distributions remain unpredictable. Residents in the area said their village was bombed by government planes as recently as last week. Rogue rebel factions also rampage nearby.

The WFP says its budget of more than US$520 million will enable it to feed most needy Darfurians through the end of the year, if they can be reached. But the agency says its stocks will begin to run down by January, and it could face a shortfall by March without more international contributions.

Ibrahim depends on aid to feed her family. She said she cannot cultivate her fields because she fears militiamen may assault her as she walks out of town.

"If food doesn't arrive soon, I don't know what my children are going to eat," she said.