Aid workers say people living in the largest displaced persons camp in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan are facing serious water shortages, primarily because of a severe drought in the area.
A senior program officer at the U.N. children's agency, Marc Salvail, tells VOA that Kalma camp, which contains as many as 150,000 people who have fled fighting in the war-torn region, is running short of water.
He says the water shortage is causing major problems in the camp.
"You have a lot of cases of diarrhea, you have a lot of cases of skin diseases due to the fact that water is not sufficient," Marc Salvail said. "When you do not have sufficient water, people may not use water to wash their hands after going to the toilet. People also wash less frequently. So a lot of diseases are transmitted because of this."
Mr. Salvail says each person in the camp should get a minimum of 20 liters of water a day for personal use. But, he says, most people are getting 10 to 15 liters a day.
He says water supplies are only catering for about 60 percent of the population, with the remaining 40 percent not having access to safe drinking water.
Mr. Salvail says negotiations are underway with Sudanese authorities, aid workers and others to voluntarily relocate residents of Kalma camp to a place where there is more water.
World Food Program spokesman Peter Smerdon, speaking to VOA from Khartoum, explains the effect that the camp's population has on the water table.
"In the camp, the water table would have gone down anyway because there's such a large number of people there drawing on the borehole, but also it is compounded by the lack of rain," he said.
Mr. Smerdon says the water shortage is being experienced all over Darfur, not just in Kalma camp. He says rains last year were just 50 to 70 percent of what they were in 2003. As a result, he says, Darfur has lower than average cereal harvests this year and soaring prices for sorghum and other staples.
Late last year, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, warned that Darfur's boreholes and wells were drying up much faster because of last year's poor short rains. He said food harvests this year are expected to be just 10 to 15 percent of the normal level.
The drought and possible food shortage are just two of many calamities Darfur residents are facing. The United Nations says the two-year-old civil war in the region being fought by the Sudanese army, two rebel groups and a militia believed to be backed by the government has claimed about 180,000 lives and displaced more than a million others.
There have been reports of skirmishes over access to water, both in the camps, between people living in the camps and those in the surrounding areas, and between ethnic groups scattered across the region.