I just completed a five-day visit to Darfur this week, with stops in all three state capitals (El Fasher, El Geneina, and Nyala) as well as visits to the field, both to IDP camps and early recovery sites.
Some of the most notable camps that I visited this trip included Zam Zam and Kalma. I spoke with some newly-arrived IDP sheikhs, and saw with my own eyes the tens of thousands (61,000, by recent estimates) of new IDPs huddled under trees on the edge of the camp. They have been displaced by fighting and aerial bombings around Shangil Tobaya, Tabit, Tukumare, Tawila, and Sortony. UN agencies and their invaluable NGO implementing partners are working as hard as they can to provide needed services to the camp, including health care, water, and sanitation. UN humanitarian agencies, international NGOs, and local NGOs play a critical role in Darfur, especially among conflict-affected populations and people in remote areas. These important groups must have access across the region, and this is a message I have delivered repeatedly to Government of Sudan officials at the national, state, and local levels.
I also had a chance to visit an early recovery site in the town of Orokum, about an hour outside of Zalingei. The Danish Refugee Council, along with UNHCR, has constructed several multipurpose buildings in an area that serves 4,000 families from 17 different ethnic groups (both Arab and non-Arab). They live peacefully together, and the Danish Refugee Council uses the buildings as schools and training centers. There are literacy classes, tailoring classes, and livelihoods activities for women and youth. Several women spoke of how their lives were changing because of these interventions. It was heartening to see a community that has started down the path toward development, and it made me think about the possibility of development across Darfur, when there is a peaceful, political solution to this seven-year conflict.
With that in mind, I traveled to Doha, Qatar, this weekend in order to see how negotiations between armed movements and the Government of Sudan are moving along. There has also been talk of a Darfur-based civil society consultation process, managed by the UN and the African Union, which would follow from any agreements reached in Doha. We are still learning the details of this proposed process. What I do know for certain is that any popular consultation conducted in Darfur must be held in an environment in which all people feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of repercussions, by the Government of Sudan, or by anyone else.
I'm looking forward to my next trip in April; I plan to travel to Darfur on a monthly basis to help continue to advance peace initiatives there.