Caritas' local partner trains residents of a camp for displaced peoplein Darfur to repair water systems. Credit: Laura Sheahen for ACT/Caritas

Caritas’ local partner trains residents of a camp for displaced people
in Darfur to repair water systems. Credit: Laura Sheahen for ACT/Caritas

By Laura Sheahen

“When we first came here, we were getting water from the valley, seven kilometers away.” Muhammad is a long-time resident of a camp in Darfur for people who fled violence. He remembers what it was like nearly a decade ago, when thousands of desperate people first arrived. “Farmers were settled closer to the valley, so we couldn’t live where the water was. But when we went to get water, they helped us.”

Ten years later, hundreds of thousands of people remain in Darfur’s camps. They’d like to go back to their villages, but until they can, Caritas-funded programmes are making sure they can live in dignity. 2013 marks 10 years of keeping vulnerable Darfuris alive and making their lives better.

Water is one example of the progress that’s been made. Muhammad’s camp is on dry, dusty land—some thorn trees, scrub brush, and baobabs grow there, but not much else. “For a while we carried water from the unprotected wells dug in the valley, but then we got hand pumps,” says Muhammad. Drilling inside the camp was difficult because the water
level is deep, but a local partner managed it. “Water is right where we live now. It’s helped us a lot,” said Muhammad.

As the years passed, Caritas support helped the partner drill more wells and make water systems in many camps easier and more efficient.

“Next we got motorized water pumps, but had to get fuel to run them,” said Muhammad. By 2012, the camps could make use of an inexhaustible resource in hot Darfur: “Now all the water systems are solar-powered.” Scattered around Muhammad’s camp are tanks connected to wide panels of solar cells. All camp residents—there are over
35,000—use the water. Neighbours from the host community also benefit: they come by with metal barrels on donkey carts to fill up.

The water’s first use is for drinking. The climate can be so dry that people get dehydrated if they’re not careful, says a doctor at a clinic supported by Caritas. But the water also keeps animals alive, so that women can take donkeys on journeys to gather grass from greener areas. People can wash their hands and bathe more often,
preventing the spread of disease. A spillway from tapstands directs water to lemon and mango trees, creating a small gardenlike oasis between dusty paths in the camp.

The water means the ubiquitous dust can be put to use in other ways, too. Bakhita, an energetic woman wearing a blue dress and turban, stands ankle-deep in a mud puddle she’s churned up using water from a plastic jerry can. Beside the puddle, large bricks she’s shaped from the mud are drying. “I’ll use these to make a house,” she says. “If the water pumps weren’t here, we couldn’t make these bricks. I’d just be thinking about how to get water to drink.”

Darfuris who have spent years in the camps continue to struggle. It’s not the place they wanted to be home. But for now, it is. And for ten years, bit by bit, Caritas programmes have been working to make it better.