Hunger stalks Darfur's refugees

Ahmed Idris’s wife is preparing the family’s only meal of the day and there is not enough for their 11 children running around their two little shelters in the middle of the Zamzam refugee camp in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The children, some of them with distended bellies, appear malnourished, although their mother says the quantity of the food rations they get has increased considerably in recent months.

She’s putting together a meal from the most recent supplies distributed by international and local humanitarian agencies.

“We don’t choose. We accept what we are given,” says Zahra Ali, a mother of seven in another part of the camp, which holds an estimated 14 000 people displaced from their homes in neighbouring villages by marauding pro-government Arab militias.

The diet here is familiar: food prepared from grain, wheat, peas and any other supplies the humanitarian agencies decide to bring to the camp—but no meat.

Many here say they have never eaten meat since they fled their villages.

But not far from where the women are preparing their meals there is a market, open on Sundays and Thursdays.

Conveniently located in the middle of the settlement, it sells everything: animal feed, wood, onions, oil, and meat, plenty of it.

Butcher Mohammed Jamaa Hamid says his mutton costs 800 Sudanese dinars ($3,08) per kilogram.

He has sold more than 10 kilos since the market opened in the morning, but none of his customers came from the camp.

“They do not buy anything that costs more than 50 dinars,” Hamid says, referring to the camp dwellers. And 800 dinars is beyond their reach, as nearly all of them have no source of income.

“We slaughter the sheep for the traders, they are the only ones who buy meat here,” Hamid adds.

Like himself, all the traders in this market come from el-Fasher, except the few women selling wood and animal feed that they offer in bundles for between 20 and 40 dinars, depending on size.

Jidu, another butcher in the market, explains that there are other parts of the sheep that the camp dwellers can afford with their meagre earnings.

“The intestines, for example,” he says.

“A handful costs 50 dinars and some of them can afford that,” Jidu adds.

There is a small hut near the meat stands where the El-Fashir traders who come here twice a week to take any dinar they can get from the refugees, go meat in hand.

For a few dinars, a woman inside the hut prepares the meat for them any way they wish.
Some like it fried, others prefer stew and a few want it roasted to provide a good meal away from home. The wind carries the tantalising aroma all the way to the women selling wood on the edge of the market. That is the closest most of the refugees get to cooked meat.

As Hamid returns to his stall, there is a woman standing in front of Hamid’s stand who is clearly one of the camp dwellers. She pulls out a sheep’s head from under the stand. “Three hundred dinars,” Hamid tells her. She drops it and walks away quietly, facing another meatless day. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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