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Sudan's hellish humanitarian crisis

From CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour

Sudanese arrive at the Farchana refugee camp in Chad that already has around 7,000 inhabitants.
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One of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today.

Thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Sudan have now crossed into Chad.
Red Cross
Disaster Relief

BAHAI, Chad (CNN) -- The hellish scene in northern Chad where people are fleeing the vicious but little-publicized war in western Sudan's Darfur region has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

The stench of dead animals resonates among the thousands of refugees who have nowhere to live but makeshift huts and have no health care.

Children are dying of diarrhea and malnutrition and U.S. officials are desperately trying to solidify a cease-fire and get aid to the people there.

The small village of Bahai is so poor it can barely sustain itself, but for more than a year it's been sharing its meager resources with 15,000 refugees.

The U.N. and other international agencies turned up a few months ago and are in a race against time now to keep people alive.

"The rainy season is coming end of May and all this will be completely flooded. We will try to move them before," Helene Caux, of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, told CNN.

"But no one really thinks that'll be possible."

Children are dying of preventable causes, like diarrhea for lack of water and health care.

Chad has just 271 doctors for a population estimated at more than 9 million.

In the north there isn't even a doctor or a nurse, just one medical technician who is only qualified to hand out basic drugs.

Dr. Camilo Valderrama works for the International Rescue Committee and is trying to plug the health care hole.

One baby, whose parents say is just 22 days old, is not growing and has the face of an old man.

Valderrama diagnoses severe malnutrition, but says the only answer is to drive at least five hours to the nearest newly set-up international health facility.

These people say they had a decent life in Darfur until the Arab Sudanese government went to war against the region's indigenous African people.

"They sent in aircraft to bomb our villages," says Ahmed Saleh. "Then the militias come on horseback, burn down our houses and take all our possessions."

Adam Suleyman told us they killed the men and brutally attacked the women and young girls.

"They attack women, they rape, they rape older and young women," he says.

Every week about 300 people are crossing the riverbed that forms the border between the Darfur region of Sudan and Chad.

They are fleeing what amounts to a campaign of ethnic cleansing conducted by the Sudanese army and its marauding militia, called the janjaweed.

According to American and other human rights officials, thousands of Sudanese villagers have been killed.

About one million are displaced within Darfur itself and another 125,000 are fleeing to exile in Chad.

Darfur is barely accessible to outsiders. Some pictures have emerged of burned down villages and overhead aircraft on bombing raids.

With great effort, the U.N. and Human Rights Watch gained access to Darfur and paint a picture of appalling human rights abuses that match the testimony of survivors.

The U.S. and Europe have brokered a fragile cease-fire yet say the militias continue their reign of terror.

Back across the border in Chad, the International Rescue Committee is burning the refugees' only wealth, carcasses of livestock which are dying of exhaustion and lack of food and water.

"Donkeys are their transport, goats are food so without these animals they really have no resources left," Gillian Dunn, emergency coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in eastern Chad, told CNN.

In the northern border area of Karfour, the U.N. is making its first food delivery since refugees arrived a few months ago.

Until now, those who didn't have anything else were surviving on the seed of a tree that they would normally feed their goats.

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