Sudan crisis the world ignores
BAHAI, Chad (CNN) -- For 15 months violent conflict has been raging in Sudan's Darfur region, where U.N. officials have accused Sudan and allied Arab tribal militias of "ethnic cleansing."
Peter Biro, a 37-year-old Swede who works for the International Rescue Committee, was sent to Chad's northeastern border with Sudan to join the humanitarian organization's emergency response efforts to aid thousands of Sudanese refugees seeking safety. In the second of three installments, he describes the mission.
Nearly a week has passed since I arrived in this desolate region of northeastern Chad, and I can see starkly visible signs of a growing health crisis.
For several months my colleague, Dr. Camilo Valderrama, has been raising alarm about the need for regular food distributions in this area, where nearly a fourth of the refugees that fled to Chad are seeking shelter.
He warned that shortages of food, clean water and shelter would soon have a grave impact. It seems this is happening before my eyes.
Forty percent of the children coming to the International Rescue Committee's clinics are malnourished and there has been an alarming increase in diarrhea and dysentery.
It's May 12 and Camilo is attending to Hadiya Beshir Issa, 25, and her 15-month-old daughter Munira at an IRC health facility in Bahai. They are recent arrivals in a seemingly endless stream of refugees fleeing brutal attacks in Darfur, Sudan.
Munira hardly has the strength to open her eyes and her skin is shriveled from dehydration. Camilo says the tiny girl is severely malnourished and he instructs Hadiya how to administer oral re-hydration solution and antibiotics.
Hadiya is from a village near Kutum in northern Darfur, where the IRC is also providing humanitarian aid. She told me that a militia attacked her village last August and that her family fled to the town of Orshi, on the way to Chad.
But that town was ransacked by gunmen last month and in the chaos, Hadiya became separated from her husband and the rest of her family. She told me that she has no idea if they are still alive. After an eight-day trek, she crossed into Chad with her baby, arriving in Bahai with 17 other families.
As Hadiya recounted her story, Camilo continued to treat Munira. But in the next couple of hours, the little girl's condition rapidly deteriorated. We quickly took her to the hospital in Tine, two hours away, but doctors there couldn't even find the child's veins in order to administer intravenous liquid. She was beyond help.
Camilo is exasperated by the lack of humanitarian attention the north. He says the emergency here is being neglected.
"The health situation in the northeast is critical and the refugees here have received next to no assistance," he said, clearly shaken by Munira's death.
"She died from dehydration, stemming from acute diarrhea and that was brought on by a lack of food and water." When immune systems are already weak, he added, diarrhea becomes dangerous and often deadly. Munira is one of 10 refugees who has died from diarrhea or dysentery in the past few weeks -- all of them have either been children or elderly.
Camilo and the rest of the emergency team have been the only aid providers in and around Bahai and Cariari since arriving in February.
With meager resources, Camilo established a team of 37 nurses, midwives and health workers from the refugee community and under his guidance, they've been providing basic health services and distributing thousands of water purification packets. But it's not nearly enough.
NEXT: THE THREAT OF MILITIAS