April 30, 2004
Despite all evidence demanding humanitarian intervention, despite a searing moral clarity, Khartoum’s genocidal war on the African peoples of Darfur has now fully precipitated a massive and irreversible humanitarian crisis. There can no longer be anything approaching an adequate humanitarian response in present circumstances. The vast scale of the crisis forces the grimmest of questions: Will the death toll in Darfur over the next 12 months be measured in tens of thousands of deaths? or will it be measured in hundreds of thousands?
Honesty and moral decency demand that we first accept that this ghastly question has become inevitable: no actions can now avert catastrophe. But only the most urgent, resourceful, and robust humanitarian intervention can prevent the present catastrophe from generating the cataclysmic numbers that defined the Rwandan genocide. The international community has waited too long, the words have come too late—and the actions that such words now demand are even more belated. War in Darfur, as deliberately and relentlessly conducted by Khartoum’s regular forces and Janjaweed militia allies, has now so fully compromised food production, has so deeply disrupted humanitarian relief efforts, has so traumatized the agriculturally productive civilians of the African tribal peoples of the region, that famine is inevitable.
Their deaths will come not from machetes but from the far more agonizing death of starvation—starvation that will typically entail parents watching their children slowly, painfully die. And then they will die themselves. Others will die from cholera, measles, and a host of water-borne diseases that will proliferate uncontrollably with the onset of the rains, especially in overcrowded concentration camps lacking all sanitary facilities. These same rains will sever the ground transport arteries for foodstocks and medical supplies. Presently prepositioned supplies are not remotely adequate for the more than 1 million people already dependent on international aid, even as the vast majority of these people are beyond any humanitarian access. Access remains impossible both because of Khartoum’s continuing obstructionism and travel-permit denials, and because the regime has not controlled or disarmed the Janjaweed.
These increasingly brutal militias, working in close concert with Khartoum, are clearly not respecting in any meaningful way the cease-fire Khartoum signed in N’Djamena (Chad) on April 8, 2004. Refugees fleeing from the predations of the Janjaweed continue to stream into Chad. Numerous reports, from highly reliable sources—in Darfur and along the Chad/Sudan border—confirm that insecurity remains extreme throughout Darfur. The same assessment is offered by UN and humanitarian officials in private communications. Indeed, on the basis of very considerable evidence, Amnesty International reported today that despite the cease-fire that was to have taken effect on April 12, 2004:
“civilians continue to suffer human rights abuses and are in a desperate humanitarian situation. Attacks on villages continue; indiscriminate and deliberate killings of civilians continue; looting continues and rapes continue. Most detainees imprisoned because of the conflict have not been released. [ ]
“Most villages in Darfur have now been destroyed and the population hardly dares to leave the displacement camps. The Janjawid (government-supported militia) block the roads and even invade the camps. In Ardamata camp for displaced people near al-Jeneina town, Janjawid are reported to enter openly and choose women to rape.
“Furthermore, the conflict is in danger of spreading. On 28 April  Sudanese planes bombed Kolbus village in Chad and the Janjawid attacked refugees and Chadian civilians across the border.” (Amnesty International, Public Statement, April 30, 2004)
Senior UN officials, US officials, humanitarian workers, and others are also indicating that Khartoum has not begun to disarm the extremely heavily armed Janjaweed—forces originally armed by Khartoum and still clearly doing Khartoum’s savage military work.
As a consequence of the insecurity created by the Janjaweed, there is now simply no chance that the African tribal groups of Darfur will be able to plant in time before the onset of the rains. Such planting must be accomplished in the next week or two, and yet the areas to which these people would have to return to plant remain Janjaweed killing fields. As a result, there will be no significant harvest next fall. It is this that ensures famine, and the terrible conclusions of the US Agency for International Development’s “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, Sudan 2004-2005” (see data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).
The key assumptions guiding the assembly of this data continue to hold: highly constrained humanitarian access and a critical planting season missed because of insecurity. The presumed “vulnerable population” recently stood at 1.2 million; this number continues to grow. Thus the grim arithmetic: next December, when the consequences of famine are at their peak, people will be dying at a rate of 20 people per day per 10,000 in this vulnerable population. Put more starkly, 2,500 people will starve, or die from increased vulnerability to disease, every day.
They will be dying in agony, and too many will have endured the unfathomable agony of watching their own children starve to death. Vast human destruction, produced by extraordinary levels of global acute malnutrition, will continue through April of 2005, when the “Crude Mortality Rate will decrease as people die or migrate out; the cumulative death rate would be approximately 30% of the vulnerable group over a nine-month period” (US AID “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, Sudan 2004-2005”).
The grimmest statistical conclusion here is that more than 300,000 people will die.
We have permitted this. We can no longer stop the famine Khartoum has engineered. The genocide has been accomplished.
What can be done? We must first of all recall the words of Mukesh Kapila, UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, uttered urgently over a month ago—when there was still a slim chance of averting catastrophe:
“‘The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved’ [said Kapila].” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)
The only difference…”now.”
“[Conflict in Darfur] is more than just a conflict, it is an organised attempt to do away with a group of people.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, March 22, 2004)
These words are now, belatedly, registering. But the urgent dispatches by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, written from the Chad/Darfur border at the end of March, posed a test that has already been failed:
“Darfur is not a case when we can claim, as the world did after the Armenian, Jewish and Cambodian genocides, that we didn’t know how bad it was. Sudan’s refugees tell of mass killings and rapes, of women branded, of children killed, of villages burned—yet Sudan’s government just stiffed new peace talks that began last night in Chad.”
“This is not just a moral test of whether the world will tolerate another genocide. It’s also a practical test of the ability of African and Western governments alike to respond to incipient civil wars while they can still be suppressed. Africa’s future depends on the outcome, and for now it’s a test we’re all failing.” (New York Times, March 31, 2004)
We are not failing; we have failed. The verb tense has changed profoundly in the last month.
The US representative to the Geneva travesty that was the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ambassador Richard Williamson, wrote recently:
“African countries and the entire world must decide if we will act to try to stop the genocide in Darfur or if we will respond with silence and inaction as we did in Rwanda 10 years ago. To fail to act is morally indefensible.”
(Chicago Sun-Times, April 11, 2004)
But we have decided; we have failed to act, as we failed in Rwanda; and it is indeed morally indefensible. We have all too fully justified Samantha Power’s recently expressed fear that “in 10 years we’ll be sitting on a similar panel discussing Sudan’s genocide” (Rwanda hearing, International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives, Washington, DC; the Washington File [US State Department], April 27, 2004).
It remains, then, first to accept our moral failure. But we must also do all that is possible to diminish the scale of the impending catastrophe. This catastrophe cannot be averted, but it can be substantially mitigated. The challenges are immense, however, even if we presume full international political resolve. There is no evidence to support such presumption.
Road transportation of food supplies from central Chad to the Chad/Sudan border and Darfur will shortly end. An authoritative assessment on this issue, received by this writer today from Chad, noted:
 Once the rainy season begins, the 650-kilometer road running east from N’Djamena (Chad’s capital) to Abeche (near the Chad/Sudan border) will be cut, as it is each year, as the “wadis” (dry channels that fill with water during the rainy season) are deepened by the floods that come with the rains;
 The 150-kilometer road is from Abeche to the Chad/Sudan border is not at all good, even outside the rainy season. It presently takes five hours to cover this distance;
 The critical sections in this road are just to the east of Abeche, but there are wadis on north/south and northwest/southwest axes along the entire course of the road. It will shortly be impassable.
There is a serviceable airstrip in Abeche (as well as a French military base with 200 troops); this airstrip can handle medium-sized air transport planes, but apparently not the giant Hercules aircraft that are the backbone of any World Food Program airlift operation. These larger aircraft would have to fly from El Obeid in Kordofan Province in Sudan (well to the east of Darfur).
Some will imagine that air drops of food are an alternative to ground transport; this is impractical for a number of reasons. There is first of all the prohibitive cost of airlifting food for 1 million people over as much as a year, given other humanitarian needs in the world. There is simply no money for such a massively expensive operation. Indeed, the present estimated costs of humanitarian response in Darfur, a response which doesn’t begin to contemplate such an unprecedented airlift operation, are far from receiving donor commitments.
Moreover, air transport of food is only in the most exceptional of cases simply the uncontrolled and unmonitored dumping of food from the air. Typically, food is airlifted to where there are humanitarian monitors and other personnel on the ground. But insecurity on the ground in Darfur makes this normal practice impossible. Indeed, so long as Khartoum continues to allow the Janjaweed its “reign of terror” (the phrase comes from the April 2004 UN human rights report on Darfur), food drops would simply be a means of feeding these deadly militias, and would make of the intended recipients more inviting targets.
Neither continued road transport from Chad nor exclusive reliance on the airlifting of aid are possible or practicable, given present circumstances in Darfur.
But we must not turn away from the shameful truth: airlifting food aid has come to be seen as the only transport means available because we did not act in the urgent ways demanded by realities clearly in evidence months ago in Darfur.
There is an alternative, though one that will require political resolve of a sort not remotely in evidence to this point in the Darfur crisis. A rail transport line runs from Port Sudan on the Red Sea through El Obeid (400 kilometers southwest of Khartoum) and on to Nyala, in the very center of Darfur. This rail line must be made the major artery for humanitarian supplies. From Nyala, the transporting of food and medical aid would become, if not fully practicable throughout Darfur, tremendously more effective, efficient, and rapidly targeted to the most distressed populations. The Darfur road system could be used as the rains permitted. Air transport would also be over relatively shorter distances.
A critical component here will be the introduction of a meaningful peacekeeping force, one capable of confronting the Janjaweed in any attacks on civilians. This would permit the establishment of secure areas for humanitarian purposes, particularly aid delivery. Such a force is also necessary to monitor the nominal cease-fire, which presently is completely unmonitored, and has no provision for meaningful monitoring. Insecurity is the greatest long-term threat to Darfur (though the systematic destruction of water sources, cattle, seeds, agricultural implements, and foodstocks will require sustained efforts at reconstruction and re-stocking). The international community must immediately begin to diminish this threat with a robust peacekeeping force, with or without Khartoum’s acquiescence.
Whatever the political difficulties of such a plan, we are morally obligated to keep in mind that many tens of thousands, perhaps as many as over two hundred thousand human beings can be saved. The can be saved if the international community finds the moral nerve to demand of Khartoum regime the following, per a resolution of the UN Security Council or by way of multilateral determination and action:
“Effective immediately, we demand that the rail line running from Port Sudan through El Obeid and on to Nyala be made fully available for the movement of international humanitarian aid, including food, medicine, shelter, agricultural supplies, and humanitarian personnel. Absolute priority must be given to humanitarian transport needs. Failure to accede in this demand will trigger an international response that will forcefully secure the rail line for these humanitarian purposes.”
Such a dramatic action would require further stipulations:
 Khartoum must be informed that the trains will not be allowed to carry any military equipment or supplies that are related to the military efforts by the regime’s regular or militia forces;
 There must as a consequence be monitors on the trains, enjoying all necessary security—including, if necessary, military protection;
 There must be no militia forces accompanying the trains as they move into the Darfur region (such accompaniment of trains by the murahaleen has been a deeply disturbing feature of the infamous spur of the rail line running from Babanusa southward to Wau in Bahr el-Ghazal);
 American train parts will be needed to repair Sudan’s trains, presently functioning very poorly because of US sanctions that prevent such parts from being transferred to Sudan. President George Bush must declare through the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) an exemption from US sanctions for train parts, with the provision that this exemption will last only as long as the humanitarian operation in Darfur continues. At the end of this time, US train parts (which must be comprehensively cataloged) will be removed unless US sanctions have been lifted.
To be sure, this would be a dramatic and decisive infringement upon the “national sovereignty” that Khartoum would inevitably assert. But the tyrannical National Islamic Front regime neither represents the people of Sudan nor has any morally legitimate claim in speaking of “national sovereignty.” Having engaged in massive crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, having thereby deliberately precipitated what is almost universally described as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, Khartoum will certainly seek to escape scrutiny with assertion of “national sovereignty”; we accept such assertion to our shame and with the clear consequence that perhaps hundreds of thousands of people will die.
We have already failed, failed profoundly, the people of Darfur. The question now is how greatly we will compound this failure. Our disgrace deepens daily.
Northampton, MA 01063