Life In Darfur

Life in Darfur
photo: Tomo Kriznar
Huts that have been burned to the ground in Bir Maza.

Civilians, trying to go about their daily lives are caught in the crossfire of the Darfur conflict. As you examine the satellite evidence contained on this site, you'll discover more about what has transpired in each village. Here you can learn all about the people who live in these villages and find out about many aspects of their daily life.

In some of the satellite images, I can see groups of small squares with circular structures inside of them. Can you explain what I am looking at?

Most homes in the Darfur region are surrounded by fencing. In larger villages and towns, this fencing is typically laid out in neat squares. In smaller, more rural villages you will often see fencing that is shaped more irregularly, according to what they surround. When an image shows that this fencing has disappeared, it can be a sign that an attack has taken place.

What are the structures I can see inside these fences?

A family may have several structures within this fenced area - including living areas, cooking facilities, or stores. A space for the animals can also be included. In some cases, especially in more urban areas, the enclosure may define just the dwelling.

In addition, separate, larger animal enclosures, known as zariba are also surrounded by fencing. In eastern Chad, right across the border from Darfur, there have been reports of preliminary raids that loot animals from animal pens before the attackers return to attack the village.

How many people/families would typically live in a hut or in a hut compound?

The most typical compound in the village would contain many members of the same family, including elderly and widowed relatives. Generally, the average household size in Sudan is 8 people. Huts are recognizable in the satellite imagery by their round shape. Because of their sloped roofs, part of the hut may sometimes appear to be in shadow. When huts are destroyed by attackers, the foundations of the hut are often left behind. These rings are clearly visible in many of the satellite images, and provide evidence that an attack has occurred.

I've heard that Darfur is very large, what are some of the differences between the areas?

Darfur is divided into three administrative states that correspond approximately with three production systems:

North Darfur

West Darfur

Semi-desert and prone to drought. It is the domain of the Abbala camel herders, who comprise both Arab (Rizeigat and Zayadiya) and non-Arab (Zaghawa and Meidop). There is some household-based millet cultivation on the sandy qoz soils.
Dominated by the central Jebel Marra massif from where Darfur's great seasonal rivers run. It is the most fertile land and is inhabited largely by non-Arab farming communities (Fur and Masalit) who grow millet, Darfur's staple, and keep a few animals. Terracing and some perennial streams enable simple irrigation systems known as shadouf. As well as millet and sorghum, the people of Jebel Marra cultivate, among other things, inter alia, citrus, onions, chillies and okra, small quantities of wheat and also groundnuts.
Life in Darfur
photo: Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images
A Sudanese girl transports water to her makeshift hut
in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in El-Geneina,
the capital of West Darfur.

Where do the villages find their much needed water? Are there wells inside the villages?

Because of the pervasive neglect of Darfur's infrastructure, most of the water is retrieved from sources outside the village, sometimes many hours walk away. Many wells are in a chronic state of disrepair. In addition, government forces have systematically targeted water sources like wells, pumps, irrigation ditches.

Several of the satellite images you will see show evidence of earthen structures, known as haftir, built in the wadis - dry riverbeds that contain water only in the rainy season. The haftir is is a semi-permanent structure that is built in the dry season and allows the villagers to store some of the water that accumulates in the rainy season.

In some of the satellite imagery I've seen parts of a village that are completely destroyed, but other parts to appear essentially untouched. Why is this?

There are many possible reasons for parts of the villages to remain intact. In most cases, burning a select few huts can be enough to displace the entire population of a village - and of villages close to it.

Are villages ever rebuilt after an attack?

It is not uncommon for villages to eventually be rebuilt. In most cases, this rebuilding is done by the surviving original inhabitants who return to the village to rebuild. Many villages have been rebuilt only to be destroyed again – sometimes more than once.

Life in Darfur
photo: UNHCR
Dead donkey – left tied up during attack on Tiero, Chad.

What might Darfur be losing in terms of history when a village is burned and destroyed?

The loss is staggering. The destruction of old constructions like mosques, the graves of the Fur sultans in Jebel Marra, traditional items such as holy drums, the fine clothes of traditional leaders and written documents like hawakir documents which prove land possession, is irretrievable. A village, an entire oral history, is suddenly wiped off the face of the earth as if it never existed.

What kind of animals are typically kept in the village?

Often it is donkeys and goats. Wealthier families may also keep sheep. Pastoralists have cows, mainly in South Darfur, and camels, mainly in North Darfur. In some satellite images, it is possible to discern herds of cattle near villages.

What significance do these animals have for a village's livelihood?

For poorer families, these animals represent their entire wealth. Since the conflict began, productivity has spiraled downwards - in terms of both farming and livestock production. Livestock trade has collapsed. The multiple attacks of government forces and other armed militias have amounted to the systematic destruction of livelihoods and livelihood systems.

What happens to livestock during an attack on a village by armed groups?

Often the livestock is stolen. Less frequently, because of their value, the animals are killed and/or mutilated. Donkeys are often killed - sometimes simply because they were tied up at the time of the attack, other times because they are not valued by people, especially by the Janjawid militias, who place a high value on camels and horses.