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In Sudan, the Daily Battle to Provide Aid

Julius Lanya, a Kenyan nurse in Nyala, Sudan, treats Haja Hamid, 12, for vitamin deficiency. Aid workers in the region report harassment by officials, rebels and bandits.
Julius Lanya, a Kenyan nurse in Nyala, Sudan, treats Haja Hamid, 12, for vitamin deficiency. Aid workers in the region report harassment by officials, rebels and bandits. (By Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)

The conflict in Darfur began two years ago, when rebels protesting discrimination against African tribes by the Arab-led government attacked police stations and military outposts. The government fought back, and allied Arab militiamen known as the Janjaweed attacked villages repeatedly, causing more than 1 million people to flee.

Human rights groups and U.N. officials have reported war crimes in the region, including rapes by militiamen and government bombings of villages, while U.S. officials have said the crisis amounts to genocide.

In recent weeks, aid groups said, relations have worsened following a U.N. resolution that authorizes sending Darfur war crimes suspects, including government officials and rebel leaders, to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Although grateful for the humanitarian help, some Sudanese officials accuse aid agencies of giving the United Nations wrong information, a charge aid workers deny.

Lanya said he had little time to think about politics. He laughs easily and dresses like a college student, in wrinkled cotton shirts and khakis, but his daily struggles are typical of those facing aid workers in Darfur.

His facility has been severely understaffed since two other Merlin nurses and the medical coordinator quit, citing emotional stress. One day, Lanya said, he found himself alone in the hospital with hundreds of patients. He had so many IV drips to start that he felt like crying.

"But when the heat is really on you, you have no choice but to carry on," he said. Leaning over Haja again, he examined her emaciated back. It was peeling so badly that her dark brown skin looked as if it had been shredded with razors.

A 'Pull to Help'

In the early 1990s, Lanya was working in Kenya for the Ministry of Health when human tragedy first found him. His post was in a town near the border with Somalia, where civil war was erupting. Thousands of injured and terrified people began pouring across, and Kenyan security forces fired shots to push them back, according to Lanya and U.N. accounts.

"I saw so many people dead or injured," he recounted. "That was when I realized that in war the majority of people who died were not soldiers but civilians."

There were no camps set up, so people just spread out on the streets -- sleeping, cooking, nursing children. Desperate men sent their wives door to door, seeking work as prostitutes or selling their clothes for pennies.

"What they wanted was food and water, nothing else," Lanya recalled. "I sometimes cried at what I saw. It was really heartbreaking."

Then fighting broke out between rebels and the communist government in neighboring Ethiopia, pushing 18,000 more refugees into Kenya. Many had gunshot wounds, Lanya said.

"I had to do an amputation with no anesthesia. I was shaking, but I did it. I cut off a leg so someone could have life," he said. "All of this . . . they were the worst things I ever saw, and it really hurt me. I guess in a way, I wasn't the same person after that."


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