Recovery and Resilience in Darfur's Zamzam Camp

Conflict has raged in Darfur for more than a decade, forcing more than 2 million people from their homes and leaving 4.4 million people In need of humanitarian assistance.

Relief International has been on the ground in North Darfur since 2004, supporting health, nutrition, food security, livelihoods and water, sanitation and hygiene. RI’s programming centers on Zamzam camp, where the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) tops 200,000. Relief International has stuck with Zamzam throughout more than a decade of increasing population – and turmoil.  At times, RI has been the camp’s only international humanitarian organization, maintaining operations as other organizations left.

The European Commission on Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) have all supported RI’s work in Sudan. The World Food Programme (WFP) supplies flour, oil and other staples to our feeding programs for the moderately malnourished and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supplies therapeutic food and supplements for the severely malnourished. Additionally, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provide medicine and vaccines.

Community participation and integration of program areas lies at the heart of RI’s approach, called The RI Way. In Zamzam, that means camp residents guide program design and that programming targets the connected causes of malnutrition and disease.  For instance, based on community feedback that plastic covered latrines were hot, uncomfortable and smelled unpleasant, RI worked to help the community create latrines made from woven reed. The design maintains privacy, but lets air pass through freely.

Overcrowded living conditions, poor sanitation and lack of clean water heighten the effects of disease and malnutrition. In Zamzam, mothers often skip meals to make sure their children eat. But a poorly nourished mother will have trouble breastfeeding her younger children, creating a cycle of hunger. Poor nutrition strains a person’s immune system, making undernourished women and children more susceptible to disease. Severely strained water systems help complete a fertile environment for ill health, as contaminated water increases the risk of dehydration and disease.

Relief International targets this cycle of poor nutrition, disease and contaminated water by addressing its causes:

  • Community leaders teach residents how to identify, treat – and avoid – malnutrition.
  • Three nutrition centers and two mobile nutrition teams treat malnourished people in El-Fasher and 23 villages in Al-Malha.
  • RI operates or supports 11 primary care clinics in Zamzam. These clinics receive acutely malnourished patients, provide vaccinations for measles and hepatitis, and treat common illnesses such as acute respiratory infections, malaria, leishmaniasis, diarrhea and eye infections.
  • RI trains Women’s Solidarity Groups to advocate for better treatment of complications during pregnancy, distribute clean delivery kits, promote breastfeeding and provide resources for sexual assault survivors. RI fosters female independence and refers people to appropriate medical care when needed.
  • 50 hand pumps were built to provide clean water for growing food, cooking and staying hydrated. Soap and containers for hauling clean water are provided for home use.
  • 730 latrines – including the aforementioned version made of woven reeds and called The Galaxy by community members – encourage sanitary conditions.
  • Kitchen gardens encourage nutritional self-sufficiency. RI teaches community members how to block out a garden in the urban camp space, and provides watering buckets, gardening tools and seeds for okra, spinach, tomatoes, fennel, cucumbers and watermelon.  Cooking classes demonstrate how to incorporate nutritional variety into daily meals.
  • RI harnesses the strength and knowledge of the community. RI has trained 340 community members, 250 volunteers and 25 Ministry of Health members to address the needs of their own refugee and host community. Through Village Health Committees (VHCs), IDPs and host community members coordinate with local leaders to identify the needs of their neighbors and plan service delivery.
  • 12 technical sanitation workers, 100 water committee members, 25 pump mechanics and 30 community hygiene promoters work to maintain clean water sources