The IDP Camps in North Darfur

Mark and I will spend most of our time working in three IDP camps close to El Fasher: Abu Shouk, Al Salaam, and Zam Zam; we will not have time to go to Kabkhabiya, which requires a helicopter flight and a two day minimum stay because flights do not operate on a daily basis. (All NGO travel within Darfur must be done by air because the roads are not secure. The World Food Programme operates flights to all the major towns in Darfur, either by small propeller planes or helicopter, and several small, regional airlines have also started operating commercial flights to the capitals of each Darfur state (North, South, and West). Goods and vehicles that must be transported go in an organized convoy with clearances from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Government of Sudan (GoS).)

The camps near El Fasher have an NGO coordinator that tries to manage the activities of all the NGOs working in each camp. The manager for Abu Shouk and Zam Zam is the Spanish Red Cross; the manager for Al Salaam is International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Abu Shouk IDP Camp, North DarfurZam Zam IDP Camp, North Darfur

Abu Shouk camp, about a 15 minute drive from El Fasher, has a population of approximately 65,000, mostly of IDPs from Korma and Jebel Si. (The camp population numbers vary widely because the IDPs move in and out, particularly in the planting or harvest season, when many return home or work in farms as hired hands.) The majority of the population is Fur. (Dar – “homeland” or “house” – of the Fur.)

Abu Shouk is divided into East and West, with 28 “blocks” in the East, and 11 in the West. Each block is subdivided by alphabet, with approximately 3-4 households per letter, separated by lanes.

Abu Shouk has a thriving main market, which operates daily, and rivals the souk in El Fasher. There is even a “cinema” – a tent covered in blue tarp that shows videos on a small television for SD 30 (about US$ 0.13) for 2 hours. There are “regional” markets within the camp as well as wood and charcoal vendors wherever there is a supply.

About 25,000 to 30,000 recently arrived IDPs were moved from Abu Shouk to an adjacent camp a few kilometers away called Al Salaam in June of this year to relieve overcrowding in Abu Shouk and to ensure the supply of basic services.

Zam Zam is located 15 km. southwest of El Fasher, a 30 minute drive, mostly on a paved road. The GoS considers this a “rebel” camp and requires security clearance every time you enter and leave the camp. (There is a permanent African Union camp located near the checkpoint.) Zam Zam has a population of between 25 and 30,000 IDPs, mostly from Tawila and other areas south of the camp. The IDPs are divided into seven “centers”, two in the South and the rest in the North. 60 to 70 percent of the population is Zaghawa. The market at Zam Zam operates twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays.

The NGOs operate out of community centers, or diwans, at the camps, utilizing “volunteer” IDP committee members for each activity (the volunteers are paid an “incentive”, but are not considered part of the staff). All of the activities take place with the permission and mobilization of the sheikhs or omdas (an omda oversees many sheikhs) in the community. Before we began any work at the camps, we introduced ourselves to the sheikhs, and received their permission to conduct our activities. (At Abu Shouk, a number of the sheikhs came shopping with us to prepare for our cooking demonstration the next day!)


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