NOT a single Sudanese child refugee under the age of five will be alive in six months unless there is immediate and dramatic international intervention, a senior United Nations official warned yesterday.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured over the border from Sudan into Chad in the past few months, driven out by a genocidal campaign against black African inhabitants of the Darfur region. Many are living in makeshift shelters, unable to get into established refugee camps, facing the constant threat of attack from the government-backed Janjaweed militias that have burned villages, killed thousands of people, raped women and girls and taken young children as slaves.
The UN has described the situation in Darfur - where something in the region of a million people have been driven from their homes and estimates have placed the potential death toll at 300,000 - as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the imminent arrival of the rainy season threatens to trigger a fresh catastrophe among the refugees who have sought shelter in Chad.
Aid experts estimated that around a quarter of the refugees in Chad would die before the end of the year unless aid could be put in place before the imminent rains begin in earnest. That figure includes 38,600 children under the age of five and 10,000 other vulnerable people, including pregnant women. It's believed 25,000 would suffer severe malnutrition.
HE WAS staring out of the window at the cattle grazing by the wadi near his house in the village in Darfur in western Sudan when he first caught sight of the Janjaweed.
The wadi was an important place: people from the neighbouring villages brought their cattle there to drink from its waters. Some of his friends and family were there too, keeping a watchful eye on the animals as they lapped at the water.
Some of the Janjaweed were on camels; the others rode horses. He remembers that they did not dismount, but rode hard, firing their guns towards the people and the cattle. The villagers began to run.
Inside his house, Abdou Abdallah Ismael scrabbled for his gun. The government in Khartoum allowed every village to keep three or four guns, to fight off the thieves who sometimes came to steal their cattle. But it reserved the most powerful weapons for the Janjaweed, the Arab militia it has decided to back in its attempts to wipe out the black Africans who live in the western part of Sudan, the Darfur region.
From inside his house, Abdou could hear the sound of gunfire. Looking out of the window, he recognised the Janjaweed from the uniforms the government had given them.
"I took my gun and when I stood up I saw people running away. Some took their cattle and others left their cattle and ran," he says. "I saw a lot of Janjaweed on horses and camels. They were circling the cattle and shooting at people. They killed 13 people.
"I was shooting back, and so were some of the others in the village. Some of the Janjaweed were killed too, but the others did not stop."
[...] It is not a fair fight; the Sudanese government has sent MiG fighter jets and helicopters to bomb the villages before the Janjaweed ride in to attack. Of course, it denies that it does any such thing, but those who have seen the evidence of the slaughter know better.
Day after day, the villages have been destroyed, until there is nothing left. Aid agencies warn of a humanitarian catastrophe, of hundreds of thousands of deaths before the end of the year as hunger and disease take their toll.
Facing extermination, the black villagers began to fight back. Many joined the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. In his village, Abdou became the local leader of the SLA.
Abdou is 32 years old. To study for his baccalaureate at the university in Khartoum, he first had to serve his time in the Sudanese army. Afterwards, he returned to his village and married Chowba Habiba Issa Mahatmat, and they settled down to bring up their two children, Allamadjine, a boy, and Islam, a girl.
Now, though, their village is gone.