Views of the Darfur humanitarian crisis continue to diverge sharply, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that much of what is said—particularly by the US, the UN, the African Union, and of course Khartoum’s officials—is driven by broader and ultimately expedient political calculations. Unable to respond effectively to the March 4 humanitarian shutdowns by the regime, various actors are either contriving self-serving assessments or accommodating Khartoum for fear of further expulsions and reprisals. The contradictions between these humanitarian assessments are so striking that it seems essential to use primarily humanitarian sources, supplemented by news reports with regional datelines, in speaking of current conditions on the ground in Darfur—now some ten weeks after Khartoum expelled thirteen international humanitarian organizations and shut down three important national organizations.
Even within the humanitarian community we find startling contrasts. Following an assessment mission in late March, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes declared bluntly of the measures Khartoum had proposed in response to the accelerating crisis:
“‘These are band-aid solutions, not long-term solutions,’ [Holmes] told a news conference on the results of an assessment of the situation in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region carried out jointly by the United Nations and the Sudanese government.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], March 24, 2009)
At the same time humanitarian workers were also speaking out:
“The humanitarian situation in Darfur is growing more precarious by the day following the expulsion of major aid agencies and a call from the main rebel group for displaced people to refuse any government assistance, NGO officials warned today. The results of the joint UN-government mission to assess the gap in aid provision has not yet been published, but humanitarian workers say the supply of medicine, clean water and food has already been significantly affected, and could worsen in coming weeks.” (The Guardian [dateline: Nairobi], March 24, 2009)
Such blunt assessments no longer seem politic, so Holmes has recently offered a more benign view of the crisis:
“Holmes, the UN’s senior humanitarian official, was keen to point out that, despite the recent expulsion of key international aid agencies, the humanitarian situation had not deteriorated as dramatically as many had feared. The UN and the Sudanese government have filled many gaps. ‘I think most of the life-saving gaps have been met but of course some services have been reduced in some places so you can’t exclude that there have been extra deaths.'” (BBC [dateline: Darfur], May 10, 2009)
But as welcome as these words will be in Khartoum, the realities of numerous reports from the UN, humanitarian organizations, news dispatches from the ground, and confidential communications with former aid workers and Darfuris—all suggest that taken at face value, Holmes comments simply don’t adequately convey the growing threats to water, sanitation and hygiene, gaps in primary medical care, and longer-term food insecurity. His assessment represents, instead, deferential recognition of the continuing threats to humanitarian operations posed by Khartoum, and a recognition as well that the international community has no intention of pressing further for the return of the expelled organizations. After more than two months it is clear that there is no meaningful political support for restoring the 50 percent of humanitarian capacity that was lost.
To his credit, Holmes himself offers some notable qualifications to his upbeat account:
“When he toured Sudan for five days this week, [Holmes] sought to make it clear UN agencies ‘lack the capacity to continue providing necessary assistance, unless they can identify new implementing partners.'” (National Post [Canada], May 11, 2009)
This is a particularly significant qualification, given the enormous but unsustainable role that UNICEF has been playing in Darfur over the past two months. Another UN agency, the World Food Program, has declared that “its work ‘is an ad hoc, rapid response with limited accountability and is therefore unsustainable.’ It does not have the staff and infrastructure to replace the expelled aid agencies.” (National Post [Canada], May 11, 2009)
Holmes also acknowledged the ominous realities of the seasons:
“‘As the rainy and lean season [“hunger gap”] approach, we are still grappling with the gaps left in many areas,’ he added. [ ] ‘The critical test will be over the coming months. Our ability to respond in a timely and efficient manner, and fill the [humanitarian] gaps in a sustained way, will require the active engagement of all actors and a loosening of the bureaucratic impediments currently constraining the humanitarian community.” (Statement by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] [Khartoum/New York], May 10, 2009)
And as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted in his most recent bimonthly report on Darfur to the Security Council:
“While joint efforts by the UN and Sudan ‘can address some of the most critical gaps in aid delivery in the coming weeks,’ Ban said, ‘the cumulative effects over time of the removal of such a large amount of humanitarian capacity puts well over 1 million people at life-threatening risk.’ ‘The rainy season starting in May is likely to make the situation significantly worse,’ Ban warned.” (Associated Press [dateline: UN/New York], April 21, 2009)
The catastrophe has not been realized, but is impending. There is no single gap that must be filled, but myriad. The effects of such massive loss of humanitarian capacity will be cumulative, but that accumulation will accelerate soon.
Even blunter assessments come from humanitarian organizations, freed from many of political obligations that constrain UN humanitarians. Alun McDonald, spokesman for Oxfam/Great Britain, one of the largest and most important of the expelled organizations, recently declared:
“‘The impact of the expulsions is already being felt across Darfur, but is likely to get even worse in the coming months. One of the largest humanitarian crises in the world could get even worse.'” (Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2009)
There have been previous expulsions of humanitarian organizations from Darfur, and they have sometimes occasioned a purer honesty than is possible while an organization is on the ground and at the mercy of Khartoum’s reprisals:
“In December 2006 the largest agency then working in Darfur, the Norwegian Refugee Council was expelled. Its secretary general, Tom Archer, warned: ‘The international community cannot continue to mince words, pretending that the hostage-taking of humanitarian operations in Darfur is not happening on its watch.’ He insisted that it was time for the international community ‘to break its code of silence and act.'” (British Medical Journal [dateline: Juba (South Sudan), Nairobi, London], April 18, 2009)
For a range of reasons Archer’s challenge was not accepted by the remaining organizations; but they are all aware of the deep truth of his warning.
Moreover, despite Holmes’ encouraging words, we must remember that virtually all is premised on “agreements” with a regime that has consistently violated all those it has signed since April 2004. And Khartoum’s measures are still “band-aid solutions,” given the scale of the crisis and cumulative effect of the expulsions. At the very least Holmes’ characterizations need a great deal more context than he has provided. The claim that there is no evidence of additional mortality, when in March alone 5,000 malnourished children as well as pregnant and lactating mothers were denied supplementary feeding (Situation Report, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 16, 2009), certainly seems tendentious. A recent humanitarian survey found a sharp uptick in the number of admissions of children under five to the remaining nutrition centers, indicating a general deterioration in the nutritional status of Darfur’s youngest victims. In turn, vulnerability to disease derives directly from malnutrition. Many young victims no longer have access to either supplementary feeding or medical care.
Ultimately, Holmes’ comments are a signal that in the ten weeks since Khartoum expelled aid organizations representing more than 50 percent of humanitarian capacity in Darfur, the expulsions have gradually come to be accepted by the international community, which has acquiesced in a patching together of ad hoc and stop-gap measures that can’t begin to make up for the capacity lost. Makeshift efforts have necessarily become a substitute for international political will.
For example, President Barack Obama declared a week after the expulsions that such actions were “not acceptable” (March 10, 2009). But he and representatives of his administration have subsequently taken to a vague language of accommodation:
“We have to figure out a mechanism to get those [expelled international humanitarian organizations] back in place [in Darfur], to reverse that decision, ***or to find some mechanism***[emphasis added] whereby we avert an enormous humanitarian crisis, [Obama said].'” (Reuters [dateline: Washington, DC, March 30, 2009)
Such a “mechanism” is nowhere in sight six weeks after Obama’s declaration—and more than a month after US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration declared, “We have to come up with a solution [to the humanitarian crisis] on the ground in the next few weeks” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], April 4, 2009). Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee and also representing Obama in Khartoum, has expanded administration disingenuousness by declaring (April 17, 2009): “‘We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity,’ said [Senator John] Kerry” (Reuters [dateline: el-Fasher], April 17, 2009).
Kerry’s scandalous deception manages at once to suggest, absurdly, that an agreement with Khartoum means anything over the long term, and that rapid restoration of 50 percent of humanitarian capacity in Darfur is remotely feasible. And this leaves aside the other deeply affected areas of Sudan: there has been almost no reporting on the effects of the expulsions and shutdowns on the people of Eastern Sudan, Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and Abyei. This is true even as the organizations expelled were disproportionately important actors in responding to these acutely vulnerable populations, numbering in the many hundreds of thousands.
In attempting to move beyond the expedient politicization of the Darfur humanitarian crisis, the present account synthesizes what can be known on the basis of public documents, humanitarian reports, and confidential communications with aid organizations and representatives of Darfuri civil society. The information is partial, but indicative. Events are moving quickly, and some specific observations and reports have been overtaken by events; but overall trends can be clearly observed. The availability of clean water is rapidly collapsing in a number of locations; tens of thousands of malnourished children under five are not receiving the supplementary or therapeutic feeding they urgently require; longer range plans for food distribution in Darfur have not materialized; the quality of aid is sharply diminishing, particularly primary health care; latrine maintenance and construction is woefully inadequate, posing dire health threats; and with the rainy season almost upon the region, water-borne diseases are poised to explode in epidemics.
But what are the official words about Darfur, including from the Khartoum regime that is partner to the “agreement” celebrated by Senator Kerry? I offer a compendium of recent public statements that suggest further context for understanding the diplomatic mincing that is the world’s response to actions that threaten millions of Darfuris, as well as many hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in the marginalized areas.
The view from Khartoum:
 “[T]here [are] no humanitarian problems in Darfur. ‘Everything is positive. There is calmness in the region and there is no existence of hunger.'” (Sudan’s permanent representative to the UN, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem as cited by Sudanese Media Center, April 25, 2009)
 “The United Nations has said the expelled aid groups accounted for more than half of the aid distribution capacity in Darfur. That, Abdalhaleem said, was another ‘big lie.’ ‘The volume is 4.7 percent,’ he said, referring to the amount of aid the 16 groups were responsible for.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], April 23, 2009)
On the nature of conflict in Darfur:
 “The war in Darfur in now ‘a low-intensity conflict.'” (Rodolphe Adada, Head of Joint United Nations/African Mission in Darfur, before the UN Security Council, April 27, 2009) [This view is authoritatively reported to have been echoed by US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration.]
 “An interim cease-fire is within reach, one which will allow the armed movements and the government of Sudan to achieve a comprehensive solution [to the Darfur crisis],” (US State Department press statement, April 30, 2009)
Not all agree:
 “The trend of high levels of violence that has characterized 2008 continued during the last quarter of the year. Armed confrontations between Government of Sudan forces and opposition groups and inter-tribal fighting caused further new population displacements, although numbers of displaced in camps remained largely stable with respect to the previous report of 1 October . In 2008, some 317,000 people were newly displaced, often for the second or third time since the conflict started in early 2003.” (UN Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34, representing conditions as of January 1, 2009)
 “Unfortunately, under present circumstances, a comprehensive ceasefire is not a prospect,” (Rodolphe Adada, Head of Joint United Nations/African Mission in Darfur, before the UN Security Council, April 27, 2009)
 “[A]n alarming number of clashes took place between the two [combatant] parties over the reporting period [February/March 2009]. UNAMID received numerous reports of aerial bombardment, including night attacks, of actual and suspected Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) positions by Government forces during the two-week period following the withdrawal of JEM from Muhajeriya, including reports of bombing of Dobo Madrassa, Tarny, Dabaneria, Dobo, Kutur, Fanga Suk, Deribat, Kazan Tanjur and Falluja (Northern Darfur) on 6 February; around Afara Mountains near Beli Ali Seref village (20 km west from Shangil Tobaya, Northern Darfur) on 8 February; around Tarny village (60 km south-west of El Fasher) on 9 February; in areas of Dobo El Sug, Madrasa, Dabaneira, Dobo Djedid, Kutur Dubo, El Omda and Funga on 10 February; and Dobo Madrassa (Northern Darfur) on 13 February.”
(Excerpt from report by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on security situation in Darfur, April 14, 2009)
On the Darfur peace process:
 “UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement the Doha ‘agreement of goodwill and confidence-building [signed by the Justice and Equality Movement and the Khartoum regime in Qatar on February 17] represents a constructive step in the ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to this long-running conflict.'” (UN/New York, February 18, 2009)
 “An ambitious attempt to convene a civil society conference on Darfur with the aim of building what its organizers call ‘a mandate for peace’ has been derailed by the Sudanese government. The organizers of the conference, which was scheduled to take place next week, announced Friday [May 8] that they had cancelled it because Khartoum had refused to allow Darfurian delegates to travel to Addis Ababa for the meeting. [ ]
“Announcing the conference last month, ‘Mandate Darfur’ billed itself as ‘the largest gathering of Darfurian civil society representatives ever assembled.’ The group said up to 300 delegates from across tribal, ethnic, geographic and religious communities would work towards a common mandate for peace talks.” (allAfrica, May 8, 2009)
Contrasting views of the Khartoum regime from candidate and President Obama and his administration:
 “I am deeply concerned by reports that the Bush Administration is negotiating a normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan that would include removing it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This would reportedly be in exchange for Khartoum’s agreement to allow Thai and Nepalese troops to participate in the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur. This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments.” (Formal statement by candidate Barack Obama [Chicago], April 18, 2008)
 Special Envoy Gration on his arrival in Khartoum: “I come ‘with my hands open,’ hoping that the regime would ‘respond with a hand of friendship.’ Like all Americans, Gration continued, “Ana ahib Sudan, or ‘I love Sudan.'” (Sudan Tribune, Khartoum, April 2, 2008)
 “I take serious issue with the way the report [on international terrorism by the US State Department] overstates the level of cooperation in our counterterrorism relationship with Sudan, a nation which the US classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. A more accurate assessment is important not only for effectively countering terrorism in the region, but as part of a review of our overall policy toward Sudan.”
(Statement by Senator Russell Feingold, Chair of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, May 1, 2009)
In such a highly politicized context, what can we know of humanitarian conditions in Darfur ten weeks after the Khartoum regime used the ICC arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir as a pretext for expelling thirteen international aid organizations, representing over 50 percent of overall capacity in Darfur? What can we say of conditions in other marginalized regions of northern Sudan (Eastern Sudan, Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and Abyei) where the expelled organizations have played a disproportionately large role?
Despite the characteristically mendacious declarations from Khartoum that the humanitarian situation is fine, a well-placed UN humanitarian official recently estimated that even with various band-aid measures undertaken by the regime and energetic efforts by UN organizations, total humanitarian capacity in early May remained at approximately 50 percent of the pre-March 4 capacity. There has been partial replacement of what was lost; UNICEF in particular has energetically attempted to fill some of the gaps left by the expulsions, but hasn’t nearly the capacity to sustain these efforts. The aid organizations from the Arab and Islamic world that had been suggested by Khartoum as resources have predictably failed to materialize in a significant way.
But just as consequentially, two extremely serious security incidents since the expulsions—involving the unprecedented kidnappings of international aid workers—have further reduced humanitarian willingness to serve in outlying or rural areas, dramatically curtailing access. This decline in security is perhaps the least appreciated development bearing on both quantity and quality of humanitarian assistance, and has largely negated any augmenting of capacity from other sources. Organizations are rightly fearful, and are increasingly inclined to hunker down. If this trend continues, assistance will be available only in urban and larger camp settings; large-scale migrations of populations will occur, creating further problems, both near and longer term. (For a brief assessment of the highly limited protection offered by the current deployment of UNAMID, see below.)
It should be shocking that hundreds of thousands of people have no access to food, potable water, and primary medical care; the same is true for hundreds of thousands of civilians in Eastern Sudan and the marginalized areas along the north/south border, which were also directly affected by the expulsions. But the Darfur crisis no longer seems to occasion shock, in part because its numbers are so overwhelming—including the fact that genocidal destruction has now entered its seventh year. But with an effort at statistical imagination we may discern the implications of some of the figures that are emerging in the wake of the humanitarian expulsions. Beyond the incomprehensible numbers—several hundreds of thousands dead, more than 2.7 million internally displaced, approximately 4.7 million affected by the conflict and in need of humanitarian assistance—lie more accessible figures.
For example, we know that the UN estimates some 700,000 people will enter the rainy season without shelter (Report by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on security situation in Darfur, April 14, 2009). They will be vulnerable to the season’s slashing rainfall, frequent floods, and acute temperature variation. We also know that malnutrition among children under five is increasing dramatically—in part because Darfuris have entered the “hunger gap” prior to the fall harvest, in part because the therapeutic treatment of these children has been drastically reduced with the expulsions. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently found that in March, “5,000 malnourished children under five and pregnant and lactating women did not receive supplementary food due to absence of a partner” (OCHA Situation Report No. 4, 16 April 2009, “Expulsion of Key NGOs from Darfur,” April 16, 2009).
WATER AND SANITATION
Altogether the fate of 4.7 million conflict-affected civilians grows daily more uncertain—despite UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Holmes’ upbeat assessment—as the consequences of humanitarian expulsions continue to outstrip what are indeed “band-aid” measures. The 2.7 million people who have been internally displaced within Darfur live in camp environments that in some cases have deteriorated seriously since the expulsions, especially in the areas of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
The rainy season begins within a month, and health risks—especially cholera, dysentery, and malaria—will skyrocket if there is no clean water, no primary health care to halt the spread of water-borne diseases, and no adequate shelter from mosquitoes. Drinking ground water or improperly treated water in the cramped conditions of the camps is a formula for medical disaster. Moreover, deadly bacterial meningitis is a serious and ongoing threat in several camps, and perhaps extends more widely. We don’t know because the remaining humanitarian organizations have been seriously compromised in their ability to assess and monitor morbidity, mortality, and vaccination scheduling.
Ideally, remaining humanitarian organizations would take over some of the tasks of expelled organizations; but as UN OCHA notes in its April 16, 2009 report (“Expulsion of Key NGOs from Darfur”):
“Although several humanitarian partners have expressed interest in filling gaps in the sanitation and hygiene sectors, there has been little progress due to lack of available funding and capacity.” (Situation Report #4)
Sanitation is becoming abysmally inadequate in several camps. Zam Zam camp near el-Fasher (North Darfur) has taken in more than 40,000 displaced persons who fled Khartoum’s violent capture of Muhajeria (South Darfur) in February 2009. Such a large population requires some 2,000 new latrines, using the standard humanitarian formula of one latrine per 20 people, and yet so far Khartoum’s WES (Water, Environment, and Sanitation) has constructed only 300 and is failing to maintain existing latrines. The regime itself refuses to grant land for this massive displaced population adjoining Zam Zam, and these people now face dire health threats.
One recent humanitarian survey finds, for example, that none of the remaining humanitarian organizations, or WES, is able to fill the massive gaps in latrine maintenance, de-sludging, and waste disposal. Some latrines are collapsing for lack of maintenance. This could rapidly lead to the spread of a range of diseases in cramped camps and even some rural areas, such as Kass. None of this is mentioned by Holmes.
Water is increasingly untreated, or improperly treated, in many camps, even as the lack of sanitation (particularly latrines) makes such water an increasingly likely bearer of disease. Fuel for pumping drinking water is already a problem and will continue to be so through at least the rainy season. Technical maintenance of mechanical water boreholes, including replacement parts such as faucets, is not nearly adequate and will soon produce severe shortages of potable water. A spokesman for Oxfam/Great Britain, one of the expelled organizations, assessed the situation in the giant Kalma camp outside Nyala (South Darfur):
“In Darfur there are already clear signs of impact [from the humanitarian expulsions]. In some camps, there is a real danger that mechanised water pumps will stop working due to lack of fuel and technical maintenance. In Kalma camp this has already happened—boreholes have stopped pumping water.'” (British Medical Journal [dateline: Juba, Nairobi, London], April 14, 2009)
Penny Lawrence, the international programs director for Oxfam/Great Britain, spoke more broadly in an April 15 statement by the organization:
“‘We have already been told that water pumps in some Darfur camps have stopped pumping, and there are growing fears about the potential for outbreaks of disease in the coming rainy season,’ Lawrence said. ‘The expulsion is already affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of the very poorest and most vulnerable Sudanese people.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], April 15, 2009)
In some camps there is an actual shortage of water reservoirs, as ground water levels recede. Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34, representing conditions as of January 1, 2009, reported: “Ground water monitoring indicates that ground water levels are receding and ground water is gradually being depleted at some IDP and urban locations in Darfur” (page 11, hereafter DHP 34). This assessment was made before the humanitarian expulsions, when plans were underway to “conduct studies to identify potential sites and designs for artificial recharge structures at vulnerable IDP locations in North and South Darfur” (DHP 34, page 11). These plans will remain merely such given the massive loss of capacity for such large-scale projects.
PRIMARY HEALTH CARE
Primary health care (PHC) is the sector in which skilled professional training is most important, and which is likely to suffer soonest as a result of Khartoum’s expulsions (and again, not only in Darfur). Unsurprisingly, this is the area in which “band-aids” are least likely to give even the appearance of closing the enormous gap in capacity. UN OCHA reports in its April 16, 2009 “weekly bulletin” that,
“Latest data indicate that less than half of the primary health care centres formerly managed by suspended NGOs are now being operated by the State Ministry of Health, and less than 40 per cent of the former population is being accessed by these centres.”
Management of primary health centers by the State Ministry of Health will certainly not be as qualified or as committed as that of the expelled organizations, further attenuating real humanitarian capacity.
The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks offers (May 4, 2009) also offers a grim overview of the consequences of humanitarian expulsions:
“The expulsion of 13 international NGOs (INGOs) operating in the western Sudan region of Darfur has left gaps in health coverage, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) as 12 of them provided health and nutrition services to about 1.1 million people. Through mobile clinics, hospitals and primary healthcare (PHC) facilities, the organisations had been providing essential services ranging from referrals for complicated and life-threatening cases to surveillance of epidemics, states the [UN World Health Organization] March-April health bulletin.”
“In North Darfur, reproductive healthcare services have been interrupted after the closure of a Primary Health Care facility; the activities of other health facilities, serving at least 200,000 people, have also been curtailed.”
“In West Darfur, only 63 of 145 medical staff are providing services at 18 health facilities.” [According to the Office of the Secretary-General (May 13, 2009), three therapeutic feeding centers remain closed because of insecurity and lack of capacity; for children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), this is a virtual death sentence—ER]
“In South Darfur, one rural hospital in Muhajariya and some other health facilities are closed. Five of six therapeutic feeding centres are also shut.” (dateline: Nairobi)
The shutting of therapeutic feeding centers, which typically treat children with Severe Acute Malnutrition, will certainly occasion significant mortality.
Health facilities that have focused on women and children have been badly compromised and health workers fear that women will “resort to so-called baladi methods, a mixture of traditional herbs and magic” (Associated Press [dateline: Abu Shouk Camp, North Darfur], April 19, 2009). Another concern is the medical treatment of victims of sexual violence, treatment that is much less likely to occur under the new humanitarian regime:
“The expulsion of 13 international and three Sudanese aid agencies from Darfur in March interrupted nutritional programs for malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers and shut down many programs to train midwives, promote hygiene, and help women suffering from violence. It has also removed many of the experts who were dealing with and tracking sexual assaults. Getting women to report attacks has always been difficult. With trusted experts now gone, it gets even harder, UN officials say. Women may also be less likely to report attacks to government aid agencies, which are taking a larger role in treating refugees.” (Associated Press [dateline: Abu Shouk Camp, North Darfur], April 19, 2009)
The protective role of international humanitarian presence could hardly be highlighted more clearly:
“Zahra Abdel-Rahman, a women’s leader in Abu Shouk camp, fears an increase in attacks, even inside Abu Shouk. ‘When the aid groups are gone, violence comes inside our camp,’ she said. Abdel-Rahman said she had recorded five cases of violence against women in the last month. (Associated Press [dateline: Abu Shouk Camp, North Darfur], April 19, 2009)
Of particular note in assessing overall PHC capacity is the expulsion of the French and Dutch sections of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). These were enormously important providers of medical health care, they were among the very earliest responders to Darfur, and they simply cannot be replaced. Ominously the three MSF sections not expelled (Spain, Belgium, and Italy) are severely limited by an international staff that is largely paralyzed following the kidnapping of three of their members on March 11 (they were released three days later). National staff of the remaining MSF sections are carrying on as well as possible, but the capacity of these distinguished medical relief organizations has been seriously attenuated.
General food distributions for March and April were completed by the UN World Food Program (WFP), but as of this writing there is no plan for distributions later in May and the following months (coincident with the rainy season and the most intense period of the hunger gap). And even if a distribution is patched together, there will be none of the oversight and monitoring that is required for equitable distribution. More than 1 million people will be affected, many losing access to food altogether. Current stockpiles will be stretched as far as possible, but it appears unlikely that WFP will be able to pre-position more than two-thirds of the required food prior to the onset of the impending rainy season. Rural populations, especially those in more remote locations, will be hit hardest—not only by lack of food and primary medical care but in some locations a lack of clean water.
A food crisis will not hit in the immediate term, but if people conclude that their prospects for humanitarian relief are greater elsewhere, they will move. The consequence often will be even more intense competition for limited food resources, and very likely violence. As I remarked in a March 4, 2009 analysis of the humanitarian expulsions (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article240.html), the threat of population migrations and attendant violence has not received nearly enough attention, given its destabilizing potential. As one aid worker in Darfur remarked (again on condition of anonymity, for fear of expulsion), “‘We are increasingly concerned at the situation. There is a massive humanitarian gap left by the NGO expulsion. Hungry people are desperate people.'”
Given this desperation, it is impossible to predict how many Darfuris will cross the border into Chad, where humanitarian capacity may seem comparatively greater and more stable. Aid organizations operating in Eastern Chad are presently engaged in contingency planning for an influx as great as 200,000—this in addition to the more than 250,000 Darfuri refugees already in Chad. Moreover, these new refugees will likely move sooner rather than later:
“If the absence of [humanitarian] services does force Darfuris over the border, ‘they will likely go soon, before the rainy season makes travel far more
difficult,’ CARE, one of the expelled agencies, recently warned.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], March 20, 2009)
Even more threatening, in terms of competition for scarce food, will be a migration from southern South Darfur into the Bahr el-Ghazal province of Southern Sudan. An alarming report by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) notes first the already grim food security situation in Southern Sudan, and goes on to declare:
“The potential movement of 1.5 million displaced Darfur residents into southern Sudan’s Northern and Western Bahr El Gazal states, due to disruptions in humanitarian assistance, presents a severe threat to food security in the two states.” (March 20, 2009)
More than “severe,” the threat is potentially explosive, with a high probability of violence that might make aid distribution even more difficult for both the indigenous and migrating populations. Famine is no stranger to Bahr el-Ghazal, and the danger presented by mass migration southward from Darfur needs to be anticipated in all possible ways.
The FEWS report also notes:
“Though the number of potential IDPs is unclear, even small inflows could have a severe impact on food security in localised areas.”
In this context the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks notes:
“250,000 people in Northern and Western Bahr el Gazal were already moderately food-insecure; peak food shortages typically occur between April and August. A large IDP population could quickly exhaust existing resources, while a significant inflow could make Northern and Western Bahr el Gazal highly or extremely food-insecure.” ([dateline: Juba], March 23, 2009)
Food supplies will certainly vary by region, and it is notable that West Darfur has been disproportionately hard hit by the expulsions. According to one humanitarian survey, the remoteness of West Darfur also makes it especially vulnerable. Eight humanitarian organizations were expelled or shut down in the region (seven international organizations were expelled, one Sudanese organization shut down). Khartoum’s WES (Water, Environment, Sanitation) is attempting to take on the many functions served by these organizations, but is excessively dependent on a vastly overstretched UNICEF. Much of the “coverage” is on paper only, or in the “expression of interest” phase. This will not distribute food, repair and maintain latrines, ensure adequate supplies of clean water, or provide PHC.
Sooner or later food will become an immense part of the growing crisis in Darfur without a very substantial increase in meaningful humanitarian capacity.
OBSTACLES TO MEANINGFUL INCREASES IN HUMANITARIAN CAPACITY
The primary obstacle to increasing humanitarian capacity is the hostility to such efforts by the regime in Khartoum: it has deliberately created the present crisis with its expulsions and shutdowns. And with its decision to refuse re-entry to humanitarian organizations, the regime has ensured that no augmenting of capacity will be adequate to the immense needs of the people of Darfur and other regions of Sudan. We know full well that Khartoum had many months to prepare its “response” to the inevitable International Criminal Court announcement indicting President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. We know full well that the regime was aware of what the consequences of its expulsions would be; and yet these gnocidaires proceeded mercilessly, determined to use the indictment as a pretext for doing what it had clearly long wanted to do. This pervasive hostility to humanitarian presence in Darfur, as well as elsewhere in Sudan, is the obverse of the regime’s refusal to provide significant humanitarian relief to its own acutely threatened marginalized populations.
It should not be surprising that in addition to expelling international humanitarian organizations, Khartoum confiscated much of the material and resources belonging to these organizations. These included laptop computers with vital data, records, and accounts, and in some cases extremely sensitive information about victims of sexual violence. Also taken were cell phones, vehicles, and money, including bank account information. It is clear that a free hand had been given to local and national officials to take what they wanted:
“Some aid workers alleged government officials were driving their vehicles, wearing their clothes and selling their laptop computers. One aid worker said even curtains from a residential compound were taken.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], April 24, 2009)
At the same time Khartoum demanded that the expelled organizations pay its national workers six months severance pay—but to the regime itself, not to the workers (by law, severance pay in Sudan is one month, not six). This was nothing less than extortion, leaving several organizations facing enormously consequential debts:
“The extra [severance] pay-outs amount to $11.5 million for the 13 organisations, in addition to US$10.6 in usual termination-without-notice payments and $20.3 million in seized assets, NGO sources said.” [ ]
“‘They asked us to pay an exorbitant amount of money… [and said]: “We have your passports. Once you agree to pay, you can leave the country,”‘ said Jane Coyne, head of mission for Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF)-France, one of 13 aid agencies ordered to leave Sudan for their alleged provision of information to the International Criminal Court.” [ ]
“‘The word I like to use is extortionThat’s all money that at the end of the day has to come from donors that would have otherwise gone for programmes in Darfur,’ an aid source said on condition of anonymity. ‘It’s absolutely maddening that we would have to pay this and that the government is just going to get away with it. There’s no recourse. There’s no retribution. There’s no penalty for the government. There’s nothing.”
“MSF International said in a statement that the Sudanese authorities had confiscated departing staff members’ passports until just a few hours before they left. This ‘effectively put them in a hostage situation.’ Bank accounts were also frozen at times. Most of the expelled NGOs have agreed to the government’s demands so as to ensure their staff could leave Sudan and to avoid potential detention or physical attack by members of the public. Local media and government officials—as well as several speeches by the president—have repeatedly referred to NGO ‘spies’ and ‘thieves.'” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], April 24, 2009)
Extortion, hostage-taking, illegal confiscation of humanitarian assets: this is the face of the “humanitarian partner” for ongoing life-saving operations in Darfur. The is the “partner” to the “agreement” touted by Senator John Kerry—one notionally to have seen “100 percent” of humanitarian capacity restored by now:
“‘We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity,’ said [Senator John] Kerry,” (Reuters [Dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], April 17, 2009)
Just as serious has been the seizure of warehouses that served as staging areas for humanitarian distributions. Early in the crisis, when John Holmes felt he might still have strong political backing, he spoke to this critical issue:
“In one case, warehouses full of food supplied to the NGOs for distribution by the World Food Organization (WFP) were being held, [Holmes] said. ‘This is not in line with the agreements we have with the Government of Sudan, nor indeed with the any of the normal tenets of behaviour in these kinds of circumstances,’ he emphasized.” (UN News Center, March 9, 2000)
And Khartoum continued to hold such warehouses instead of turning them over to the UN Joint Logistics Center (UNJLC) for proper humanitarian use. The approximately 700,000 people who will be without shelter this rainy season are destined to suffer precisely because of the regime’s actions:
“691,120 people out of 692,400 remain without NFI [non-food items, including sheltering material] distribution coverage as warehouses in El Fasher and El Geneina have not been handed over to UNJLC [by Khartoum].” (UN OCHA, “Expulsion of Key NGOs from Darfur,” April 16, 2009)
The painfully (and destructively) gradual return of the warehouses to UN control has taken over two months, and is yet another measure of how Khartoum continues to obstruct humanitarian operations.
Another example of this obstructionism is the regime’s refusal to grant land for the more the 42,000 newly displaced people displaced who have arrived at Zam Zam camp outside el-Fasher (North Darfur), having fled the bloody fighting in the Muhajeria area of South Darfur (tens of thousands of additional IDPs have fled to other already overwhelmed camps). Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his most recent bimonthly report to the Security Council (April 14, 2009), highlights the lack of adequate water supplies for the new arrivals, but also emphasizes the fact that Khartoum officials “have not yet allocated sufficient space to accommodate the newly arrived internally displaced persons, despite repeated requests by the United Nations” (page 5).
We should know from ample past experience that in the coming months we will hear about many such refusals of the UN by Khartoum. Many will be as willful and destructive as the refusal to accommodate IDPs at Zam Zam; others may be more consequential yet. But the attitude is one of giving only as much as international public relations demands. The same men who have harassed, abused, and obstructed humanitarian workers for years; the same men who have held humanitarians hostage, made them victims of extortion, confiscated their possessions and organizational assets; the same men who have countenanced the beatings, assaults, and hijacking of humanitarian workers—these are the same men who will be making decisions going forward. Absent an improbable moral metamorphosis, can the regime really be expected to change the character of its decisions?
Another major obstacle to increasing humanitarian capacity is insecurity, which more than three years ago had reached intolerable levels, at least from the publicly articulated perspective of large groups of both UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations. Indeed, it is difficult to stress sufficiently the constraining role of insecurity throughout Darfur, and how much of the region is simply inaccessible. Not only is such insecurity prompting many humanitarian organizations to reconsider the viability of their presence in Darfur, but it acts as a deterrent to the deployment of new personnel and resources by other organizations. The UN Department of Security and Safety has privately warned that “violence toward humanitarian personnel in Darfur is spiraling out of control. The situation is untenable and people will start to leave soon.”
This dire warning from UN DSS deserves repeating:
“violence toward humanitarian personnel in Darfur is spiraling out of control. The situation is untenable and people will start to leave soon.”
It is also insufficiently remarked how difficult it is to begin operations in Darfur, and how dependent humanitarian organizations are upon institutional memory, local knowledge, and an understanding of the ways of getting things done under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Lack of first-hand knowledge of security concerns and limitations will be a constraining reality for any new international organizations. And while national workers of expelled organizations have in some cases been recruited by those organizations remaining, many Sudanese fear the consequences of their association with former employers now charged, in effect, with espionage. Some have fled, gone under cover, or simply decided to leave the increasingly dangerous business of aid work.
Certainly, as UN officials privately insist, Khartoum’s military and security presence is sufficient in urban areas, and other areas under their control, to prevent a great many of the attacks by hijackers and bandits. Not to engage in such prevention and protection is deliberately to put workers at risk in an attempt to limit their movements. Inaction is, in the current security environment, an efficient means of achieving cruel goals that are all too clear.
UNAMID AND THE SECURITY CRISIS
Almost two years after it was unanimously authorized by the UN Security Council, the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is failing in many respects, particularly in winning the confidence of the Darfuri people. Moreover, augmenting UNAMID capacity during the coming months will be extremely difficult once the rains begin. The UN-authorized peace support operation is floundering at much less than half capacity, as even Rodolphe Adada (Special Joint Representative of the UN and African Union to UNAMID) admits. The preposterously ineffectual Adada recently told the Security Council that UNAMID “was operating at roughly one third of its full capability” (SC/9644 April 27, 2009), and even this seems excessively optimistic.
The obvious motive for Adada’s misrepresentation is to rescue the African Union (which, at Khartoum’s insistence, is preponderant in UNAMID) from the ignominy of failure in its first major operation in Africa. This also accounts for his astonishing claim that Darfur is a “low-intensity conflict,” a claim that makes sense only in the context of the massive violence from 2003 through early 2005. But insecurity is “intense” throughout Darfur, so much so that UNAMID cannot travel to many locations and continues to have its movements blocked by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence. We get a glimpse of just how restrictive the regime can be in the Secretary-General’s most recent bimonthly report (April 14, 2009):
“The mission, however, continued to face restrictions on its freedom of movement. These restrictions were imposed mainly by the Government of the Sudan forces before and after military engagements with different movements, and were justified to UNAMID on security grounds. For example, a UNAMID convoy from Zalingei was denied access to Mukjar (Western Darfur) on 17 February 2009, while a patrol from Khor Abeche to Al Mallam (50 km south-west of Shangil Tobaya, Northern Darfur) was denied access on 19 February, following clashes between Government forces and JEM in eastern
Jebel Marra. In one instance, access to Al Riyadh camp for internally displaced
persons in El Geneina (Western Darfur) was denied to a UNAMID night patrol on 8 March.” (page 7)
UNAMID was also denied access to the regime’s detention facilities:
“During the reporting period, UNAMID was unable to access detention facilities run by the National Intelligence Security Services and its access to prisons was often limited owing to delays in receiving authorization from the Ministry of the Interior.” (page 8)
Humanitarian organizations are also frequently denied access for transparently military reasons:
“Humanitarian access to some areas of Darfur affected by fighting has been restricted in some cases during the reporting period. On 7, 10, 11 and 12 February, Government authorities did not provide flight clearance to various inter-agency assessment missions in Southern Darfur. These restrictions were imposed after reports of aerial bombardment in the region, and as tens of thousands of people were on the move in Shaeria locality. Access to areas of eastern Jebel Marra has also been consistently denied during the reporting period, allegedly because of insecurity.” (page 5)
The UN Security Council report on Adada’s briefing (April 27, 2009) notes that he admits:
“Due to the insecurity, UNAMID had been unable to visit locations to assess the impact of the bombardments on the civilian population, including resulting casualties, destruction of property and displacements.” (SC/9644)
And yet as part of his justification for characterizing the Darfur war as “low-intensity conflict,” Adada adduces a figure of only 22 killed in Darfur for all of April 2009. What possible sense can this make as a mortality figure if access, particularly to militarily volatile areas, is denied by the regime? or if insecurity prevents assessments? This is simple mendacity, entirely in character. UNAMID never, for example, came up with a credible figure for the deaths that followed from Khartoum’s scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina (February 2008), in which many tens of thousands fled, including a great number to neighboring Eastern Chad. Similarly there has been no credible figure for mortality resulting from the violence around Muhajeria and neighboring villages in January/February 2009—again involving many tens of thousands of violently displaced persons.
We might also ask why these figures—which don’t include mortality from disease and malnutrition directly related to antecedent violence—are given such prominence by those such as Alex de Waal who find them convenient to their views of the Darfur conflict. Methodologically there could hardly be a less reliable way of determining either the scale of mortality or the intensity of conflict. And yet AU figures are repeatedly cited by de Waal and others as representative of all of Darfur.
We should also note that Adada makes no mention of the UN High Commission for Refugees estimate of human displacement for 2008: a total of 317,000 human beings. Most were non-Arab or African tribal populations, many displaced for the second or third time—and the large majority displaced violently. “Low-intensity”? Adada—widely despised by Darfuris—is attempting to claim credit for achievements that UNAMID simply has not made, and for protection that UNAMID has not and cannot offer.
Adada’s report also stands in conflict with a number of reports from extremely well-informed and credible Darfuri civil society figures. Here is one communication that came to this writer in April (lightly edited for typographical and grammatical clarity only):
“The situation in the ground [is] getting worst all the timeapart from aid givers expulsion and the miserable situation these displaced are suffering, the government and its militia started to burn the displaced camps. They burned Aba-Zar IDP camp causing death of two people and burning more that 600 [dwellings] and burning more than many women and children who were hospitalized in Al-Genena hospital. The next was Mornei displaced camps where main humanitarian store was burned and killed a child. This then moved to Kass IDP camp. This is a systematic on-going process…and we do not now when this genocide will stop….” (confidential email, received April 8, 2009)
As partial confirmation of this account, UNAMID (el-Fasher) reported (March 27, 2009) that:
“A joint team of UNAMID military and police personnel that was dispatched to the camp to investigate the fire’s cause was informed by residents that two armed men in military uniform and two others in civilian clothes were seen entering the camp, starting a fire about 12:30 am, and then fleeing. One female IDP died at the scene and a 22-year-old male IDP died later after being taken to hospital. Three other seriously injured IDPs are receiving medical treatment at El Geneina hospital. The blaze spread relatively quickly because of strong winds at the camp and as many as 1,500 residents were affected by the fire.”
So long as such extreme insecurity prevails (and no region is more insecure than West Darfur), it will be extremely difficult to staff and maintain a humanitarian presence. The pre-war population of West Darfur exceeded 1.5 million human beings.
There appears a growing willingness to allow Khartoum to dictate the terms of humanitarian presence and movement in Darfur, and to allow for the collapse of significant aid projects in Eastern Sudan and the southern marginalized areas. This represents capitulation before the regime’s barbarous acts and continuing defiance. In turn, political expediency has been re-labeled in ways to draw attention away from the outrageous threat of human destruction and suffering. De Waal is again representative:
“For Darfur and Sudan, what is needed now is to treat the [humanitarian] service delivery challenge as a technical issue and shift the focus of international attention to Sudan’s political process.” (Social Science Research Council Darfur website, “Attention and Deterrence,” May 11, 2009)
The notion that “humanitarian service delivery” in Darfur can be rendered a merely “technical issue” is to ignore the most conspicuous humanitarian realities of the past five years. It is to ignore the patently political realities governing all of Khartoum’s decisions since the expulsions of March 4, 2009. It is to ignore the nature of the Khartoum regime, and its flagrant disregard for the many agreements it has signed with the UN and its failure to abide by UN Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 1591, which bans all military flights (just yesterday UNAMID reported more aerial attacks in North Darfur; eyewitness accounts by UNAMID were peremptorily dismissed by the Sudan Armed Forces [Reuters (dateline: Khartoum), May 13, 2009]).
It is sheer fantasy to imagine that any decision by the UN or Western nations to consider humanitarian aid delivery in Darfur a merely “technical issue” will be reciprocated by Khartoum—a fantasy with potentially catastrophic implications for the populations of both the IDP camps and vulnerable rural areas. The fact that Khartoum has for public relations purposes agreed (for now) to various terms and conditions that will expedite some aid delivery does not change the fundamental character of the regime as reflected in its longstanding hostility to humanitarians and their operations, and to the very existence of IDP camps.
Much more politically revealing is Khartoum’s recent collapsing of a major Darfuri civil society initiative, “Mandate Darfur”:
“An ambitious attempt to convene a civil society conference on Darfur with the aim of building what its organizers call ‘a mandate for peace’ has been derailed by the Sudanese government. The organizers of the conference, which was scheduled to take place next week [of May 11], announced Friday [May 8] that they had cancelled it because Khartoum had refused to allow Darfurian delegates to travel to Addis Ababa for the meeting.”
There could be no more striking example of the regime’s contempt for Darfuri civilians and the essential role of civil society in forging peace in Sudan. Khartoum much prefers to keep negotiations exclusively among men with guns—and preferably only the Justice and Equality Movement. For it has long been obvious that without true representation of Darfuri civil society, meaningful discussions of fundamental issues are impossible. Land tenure, migratory rights, compensation for losses, wealth-sharing and development assistance, meaningful power-sharing—all are fundamental to a just peace, as opposed to merely a ceasefire agreement that UNAMID is not nearly prepared to monitor or enforce.
Sending Khartoum the signal that there is no international political will to confront the regime’s outrageous actions—which in the first flush of honesty President Obama rightly described as “not acceptable”—is to assure the regime that whatever concessions it makes now, whatever patchwork arrangements it agrees to now, can be “technically” ignored whenever the moment seems opportune. If there is only “technical” agreement, then “technical” adjustments are all too predictable.
The hunger gap has begun, and the rainy season will soon be upon Darfuris. Leaving them at the mercy of Khartoum’s brutal whims, vulnerable to “technical” machinations, is yet another deep betrayal, adding to an ignominy that is already unfathomable.
May 14, 2009
[A follow-up analysis will examine the particular shortcomings of UNAMID, the extremely ominous violence along the Chad/Darfur border, and growing threats to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. These threats include appointment of Ahmed Haroun, indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and war crimes, as governor of Southern Kordofan, the most likely flash point for renewed north/south conflict.]