North Darfur: Trying to reach isolated communities

Teams of MSF in North Darfur have travelled to areas where humanitarians organisation had not been able to go for months. They found communities who were completely cut off from international assistance.

In two cars stacked with medicines, a team set out from Kebkabya in an attempt to reach Kagoro, the main village of the Jabel Si mountains, in an area controlled by the SLA rebel movement. There are around 37,000 people living in that region and in late 2005 MSF had set up a health centre to bring basic medical assistance. But the centre had to be closed in June 2006, after another organisation in this region was the victim of looting.

On the road to Kagoro, the MSF team passed a number of checkpoints controlled by the Sudanese Army. Soldiers at the last checkpoint before SLA area were clearly surprised to see an international non-governmental organisation use this road that had been off-limits since months. But after careful examination of the materials in the cars, they allowed the MSF workers to drive on.

Further down the road, the cars were stopped by a group of nomadic people. They were living in a dry wadi, a seasonal river, in precarious conditions, with only ragged plastic sheeting for shelter. "The elders approached us saying that they had not received any aid from anybody for a long time," says Hakim Khaldi, the outgoing head of mission for North Darfur and a member of the assessment team. "Unfortunately, at that moment we could not stay there as we had to continue to our destination."

Upon arrival in Kagoro, a village high in the mountains, the MSF team met with community leaders to get a clear idea of their needs. They reopened the health centre and restarted medical assistance for the people in the Jebel Si. "The first week we did around thirty consultations, but three weeks later the number of consultations had already tripled," says Khaldi.

Once the health centre in Kagoro was up and running again, the MSF team decided to go back to the nomadic group they had met before. Other teams visited nomadic communities elsewhere. In March MSF launched three mobile clinics to bring medical assistance to communities living in wadi Assam, wadi Boromaleh and wadi Bardei, for a total of around 9,000 people. At least once a week, a doctor and a nurse visit each community. On an average day, they will do about 120 consultations.

One of the main difficulties humanitarian organisations face in Darfur is to move around. Fighting and deteriorating security have prevented MSF and other organisations from reaching populations affected by the conflict in outlying areas. "We know very well what is going on in locations where there are big camps for displaced people and where there is a massive and constant presence of the humanitarian community," confirms Sonia Peyrassol, operational coordinator for MSF's work in North Darfur. "But all too often we don't have a clue about the situation outside these centres. It was crucial to go back to Jabel Si and to also explore new areas where there are real needs but little or no assistance."