Sudan’s Struggle: Building a Fresh Future
By David Tereshchuk*
Reconstructing their shattered communities is proving hugely challenging for the Sudanese people, after decades of conflict and humanitarian crises.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) dedicates much of its presence there to working with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who are reckoned to number around five million nationwide.
“In spite of all the many challenges,” says Kathryn Paik of UMCOR, “our programs are nevertheless being implemented, and implemented effectively.”
That is Paik’s preliminary conclusion from her recent trip as UMCOR NGO’s program officer for Sudan, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe. It was her first journey there since taking responsibility for programs in Sudan.
The country presents inescapable difficulties for all international NGOs whose mission is with IDP populations. Sudan is a desperately poor nation—ranking 169th in the United Nations’ Human Development Index listings—and despite peace agreements made to end its long-running disputes, tension and violent outbreaks can still cloud the peace processes. (Currently, for instance, there is cross-border fighting again between Sudan and the new nation-state of South Sudan).
In the Darfur region, UMCOR’s work centers on IDP camp-life, nowadays mainly within the recently created East Darfur State (part of an administrative reshaping of territory to ease inter-communal tensions over pasturage and water). Partnering with local groups and with international supporters, UMCOR is helping to build new schools, adult skill centers, latrines, and other vital services.
Security concerns can still hamper the work, not least by limiting staff movement around the country. Fluctuations in the country’s currency exchange rate can be a constant concern as well, while a flourishing black-market in currency operates alongside the official bank rate. The combination can play havoc with fuel and building costs, and a reliable supply of construction materials is of course essential to the UMCOR mission.
New building lies at the heart of much of the work. At El Neem IDP Camp in the Ed Daein locality of East Darfur, for instance—which is home to 13,500 displaced households—UMCOR piloted the construction of a new kind of latrine as part of its Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) program. Its innovative and environmentally friendly design involves using steel, which is readily available, for the latrines’ superstructure. This lasts longer than conventional structures and consequently saves on lumber. Fewer trees need to be cut down, an important consideration in view of the region’s chronic desertification.
In addition to implementing new physical structures, UMCOR has been emphasizing the need to build up local IDP communities’ own capacity. Paik says: “It’s better that Internally Displaced Persons in their camps can manage their own resources, like water for instance, and also avoid any potential for conflict with the host community around them. Generally, people who need and use the water themselves are the best managers of it.”
Enabling better relations between IDPs and the populations surrounding them is also an important priority. Against a daunting economic backdrop, UMCOR is working to help IDPs develop marketable job skills, and thus enter the world of paid work. “We are working toward a full transition,” says Paik, “from providing humanitarian relief to participating in a long-term, sustainable integration of populations.”
You can help the process continue with a gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.