United Methodist Committee on Relief

Sudan: Meeting New Needs in Darfur

UMCOR works to build new emergency shelter units for influx of displaced families in El Neem camp.
A new influx of displaced families at the El Neem camp in East Darfur.
Photo courtesy Radio Dabanga

By David Tereshchuk*

June 13, 2013—Only last year, hope was beginning to rise that Darfur, Sudan, might finally be on the way to a better life. After a decade of brutal conflict, and shocking slaughter of civilians, peace agreements appeared to heralding a period of recovery. Tens of thousands of people were voluntarily leaving the region’s internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps and returning home to start rebuilding their lives. It was only a tiny proportion of the camps’ overall population, but the return inspired considerable optimism.

Now, though, fresh violence has bedeviled the process. In April this year, clashes broke out again between the Sudanese Government and rebel forces in East Darfur State. The fighting, especially in and around the town of Labado, sparked a whole new surge in population displacement – people leaving their homes and seeking greater safety elsewhere within East Darfur State and South Darfur State.

Many of the fleeing families were drawn to El Daein, East Darfur’s state capital, and have been staying in the city’s El Neem IDP Camp, which is already home to nearly 60,000 people. The new arrivals have been swelling that population at an estimated rate of 2,000 households per month (perhaps as many as 12,000 new individuals).

At the request of Sudan’s Humanitarian Aid Commission, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has begun providing emergency shelter for the new IDPs, with funding from the United States’ Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance channeled through its partner agency, Catholic Relief Services. UMCOR is well placed to carry out work on the ground for this project, having operated effectively in El Neem since 2007. UMCOR has been negotiating with state authorities over the building of new emergency shelter units.

UMCOR’s head of mission in Sudan, Juliet Stein, says that with the government reluctant to provide new plots of land for the additional IDP influx, “the new shelters will have to be squeezed in alongside existing families and share already allocated plots.”

There is great urgency in UMCOR’s push to provide its targeted total of 3,000 new emergency shelter units. Darfur’s rainy season is just beginning, and many of the new arrivals currently are sleeping out in the open. According to the mission’s Darfur operations manager, Dismas Agoro, “The heavy rains can promote pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, as well as diarrhea. Mosquitoes proliferate in the rainy season, too, so the malaria risk is also heightened.”

UMCOR’s approach is to employ a model for the shelters’ design that has been developed with involvement by representatives of the displaced populations themselves. These families also will erect the shelters, with guidance from shelter extension workers. Woven grass mats held together with strong cords on a framework of bamboo poles will form the shelters’ main structure, and while the rainy season lasts, plastic sheets also will be used. Once the rains end, the sheets will be folded when dry and stored until needed again.

Ongoing shelter maintenance will be a priority too, with education and training offered to residents to carry out their own repairs and replacement when needed.

There is a special and serious concern that needs to be addressed in the camp. Stein reports that “El Neem is unusually vulnerable to fire.” Thousands of temporary homes are already placed very close together, a condition that will be exacerbated with the new construction. “It just takes one family,” says Stein, “to have one member be somewhat careless—since they cook on open flames—and a fire can spread really fast through the camp.” Instruction in fire prevention will be a vital part of the program.

In these challenging circumstances, UMCOR and its partners in Sudan will make every effort to provide for, as Agoro describes it, “family needs in a strange land far from home.”

Your gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385, will help. Thank you for your support.

*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst. He is a regular contributor to

Your gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385, will help. Thank you for your support.