Education And Debate

Sudan: eating dust and returning to dust

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 29 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1458
  1. Hans Veeken (hans_veeken@amsterdam.msj), public health consultant
  1. a Médecins Sans Fronti`res, PO Box 10014, 1001 EA Amsterdam, Netherlands


    In the early morning we drive out of the city. An asphalt road stretches like an endless ribbon, southwards into the desert. The wind is blowing, dust is seeping through every crack and cranny, entering the car but also my eyes, mouth, and ears. The area resembles a moon landscape: sand, rocks, and more sand.

    After an hour's drive we turn off the road and see the camp. The land is dotted with small houses, shelters with mud walls, living spaces generally not much larger than 10 square metres. There is no shade. The place looks unfit for human habitation—but people have been living here for years.

    Life in the camps

    We drive to the clinic, a structure made of bamboo matting. It has a sheltered courtyard adorned in the centre with a real flowerbed. The clinic opens every day at 6 30 am; the three medical assistants see some 150 patients a day. An old woman is patiently waiting. It takes two interpreters to communicate with her. I ask my question in English; the medical assistant translates into Arabic for the old woman's companion; she, in turn, translates the Arabic into Dinka. The woman's answer is translated the other way round. It seems that she arrived in the city in 1993 with two of her four children. Her husband's fate remains unclear, the children left behind have died. She looks about 60 but is only 40. She has fled the war and says: “Here I can't find any rest either. I can't earn any money in the camp. I'm living from what people give me.”

    Summary points

    About a fifth of the population of the Sudan has been displaced because of civil war

    Most displaced people are living as squatters in slums around Khartoum

    These slums are periodically razed and the inhabitants driven away

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