From the Archives - Darfur, Sudan - Oxfam GB

These are a couple of images shot in Northern Darfur on commission for Oxfam GB about 15 years ago.  The visit took place shortly before the horrific escalation in atrocities by the government backed Janjaweed militia over 4 years or so from 2003 onwards.  During the conflict estimates have put the number of civilians killed at between 200,000 and 400,000.


Life has always been tough in this part of Sudan - water is hard to find and Oxfam were working with organisations to maintain and install boreholes and build dams.  Without a water supply there is nothing.  Life for even the toughest and most resilient of people cannot go on without it.

The picture above was of a very remote well site - as I remember it took us all day to get there by Landrover - water was pumped by hand from a borehole and the livestock brought from miles around to drink.  I took the image from the top of a water storage tank that had long ago been built beside the well.  The diesel pump was no longer working and the tank had fallen into disrepair - the caretaker of the pump was still on hand but had many years previously stopped being able to use it, a victim of relentless sand, wind and a lack of maintenance and spares.

In areas where there were no hand pumps things were even more desperate.

Camel herders in the picture above brought their animals to drink from nothing more than muddy hollows, remnants of the last rains.  The herders scraped a hole and waited for the water to collect and then scooped it up in metal bowls to store in goatskin bags.  Having filled the bags with water from themselves they then allowed the camels to drink.  Never have I felt so lucky to have a tap to turn on whenever I want.

At another location in a long ago dried up river bed women were hauling goatskin buckets of water 20' up from a hand dug well.  The log over which they pulled their loads was worn with the effort of years of water collection.  Having filled assorted buckets and goat skins the women then stoically set off on the walk back to their compound or village - a journey that might take them up to several hours to complete - something I could never imagine doing day in day out.

I often wonder what happens to people in the years after I've been fortunate to visit them - I guess the answer is that for the people I met in Darfur the intervening years have not been kind or easy.

This was from the good old days of film - shooting with 3 bodies as I remember - colour transparency (fuji Provia), black and white (HP5) and high speed print (at a whopping 800 ASA!!!) for use in dark situations  - at the time I was using a bomb proof Nikon F3, FM2 and I think an F100.  I carried a pile of film, maybe 60 rolls for the 3 week trip and never knew what I had until I got back and film was developed.  Compare that with how we work today - cameras capable of shooting practically in the dark, memory cards capable of holding 60 rolls worth of images and most importantly the ability to review images on the go and assess exposures and composition - something that film never gave you unless of course you shot polaroids.