“It is imperative that we learn the lesson from past failures
to respond in time to evolving, genocidal evil.” (Yad Vashem [Jerusalem], July 18, 2004, urging “immediate, concerted” international action in Darfur)
July 21, 2004
OVERVIEW OF AN EXPLODING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
The rapidly gathering pace of genocidal destruction in Darfur is ever more widely evident. The mismatch between humanitarian capacity and humanitarian need daily becomes more deadly, even as those most responsible for humanitarian planning have not yet fully acknowledged this widening gap. Nor have we been afforded by the various organizations of the UN, by other international humanitarian actors and donors, or by the US Agency for International Development sufficiently clear, coherent, and comprehensive statistical accounts of human displacement, destruction, and humanitarian need. In particular, we need a much clearer global estimation of those in Darfur (and Chad) presently in need of food aid, as well as medical treatment, clean water, and shelter (whether these people are presently accessible or not). We must also be provided a much clearer sense of how rapidly this estimated population is expected to increase.
Most urgently, we need a clearer articulation of the challenges posed by the basic logistical demand in the Darfur crisis, viz. provision of transport capacity to move 16,000 metric tons of food (grain, pulses, oil) per 1 million people in need per month. And once the challenges are fully articulated, what are the credible means of addressing them?
In addition to this massive food demand, there is an urgent need to move—as soon as possible—thousands of metric tons of shelter, medical supplies, water-purification equipment, and cooking fuel. Moreover, transport capacity entails not merely movement into the Darfur region, but subsequent distribution to the locations of those most desperately in need.
If we assume—as a great deal of evidence suggests we should—a population of more than 2 million people in need food and non-food aid, then we must be thinking of monthly transport capacity for between 35,000 and 40,000 metric tons. Given the virtually total lack of food production in Darfur, we must also assume that these requirements extend well over a year into the future.
These are huge quantities, with a very lengthy time-frame. They will require massive transport capacity, relatively efficient and coordinated operations on the ground, as well as appropriate levels of security for both humanitarian and transport personnel. None of these requirements is remotely in evidence or in prospect. Nor, in fact, is there any evidence that sufficient quantities of food and medicine have actually been purchased or found committed funding (this latter fact obliges the US Agency for International Development to predict that there will be a break in the “food pipeline” as early as September 2004 (US Agency for International Development “fact sheet” for “Darfur—Humanitarian Emergency,” July 16, 2004).
These are matters of utmost consequence to many hundreds of thousands of people at acute risk in Darfur. To the extent we fall short of meeting these immense logistical and humanitarian material requirements, people will die proportionately. If we provide only half the food and non-food items that are needed, then slowly but surely over 1 million people will die. Food and non-food items may be divided among this already weakened population: this simply distributes the risk of morbidity and mortality more widely. It does not change the grim underlying calculus. The people of Darfur need food, medicine, water, and shelter—as do all human beings.
By refusing to acknowledge fully and frankly the quantitatively stark nature of the present needs of these Darfurian human beings, the UN and other international humanitarian actors are contributing to a climate in which it is possible to avoid discussing the overwhelming need for humanitarian intervention. But there is simply nothing else that can bring humanitarian capacity and need into equilibrium. To be sure, perhaps when total mortality grows beyond its present approach to 150,000 deaths (see mortality assessment by this writer, July 15, 2004; available upon request) to 250,000, there may be a sufficient sense of urgency. Or perhaps it will require 500,000 deaths. Indeed, perhaps the post-Rwandan threshold is 1 million deaths. But will the world look away from such massive, racially/ethnically animated human destruction indefinitely?
KHARTOUM’S SPONSORSHIP OF ETHNICALLY/RACIALLY
MOTIVATED HUMAN DESTRUCTION
However we may answer this terrifying question, there is right now—if we will only look with some attention—far more than enough evidence to establish both the general scale of this crisis as well as its very precise cause in the massive insecurity that continues to prevail throughout Darfur. This insecurity is a function of racially/ethnically animated violence and destruction that has as its proximate cause Khartoum’s Janjaweed Arab militia groups. But as Human Rights Watch establishes still more compellingly in its important report of yesterday (“Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support,” July 20, 2004), Khartoum is deliberately and systematically using the Janjaweed for its own purposes of racial/ethnic destruction (report at: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/07/20/darfur9095.htm).
“Sudan Government documents incontrovertibly show that government officials directed recruitment, arming and other support to the ethnic militias known as the Janjaweed, Human Rights Watch said today. The government of Sudan has consistently denied recruiting and arming the Janjaweed militias, including during the recent visits of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.”
“Human Rights Watch said it had obtained confidential documents from the civilian administration in Darfur that implicate high-ranking government officials in a policy of militia support. ‘It’s absurd to distinguish between the Sudanese government forces and the militias—they are one,’ said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. ‘These documents show that militia activity has not just been
condoned, it’s been specifically supported by Sudan government officials.'”
“Human Rights Watch said that Sudanese government forces and government-backed militias are responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and ‘ethnic cleansing’ involving aerial and ground attacks on civilians of the same ethnicity as members of two rebel groups in Darfur [i.e., the Fur, the Massaleit, and the Zaghawa “ethnicities”].”
(“Darfur Documents Confirm Government Policy of Militia Support,” July 20, 2004)
What is the nature of the violence being perpetrated by the Janjaweed?
Amnesty International has very recently released a new and powerful indictment (“Rape as a Weapon of War [in Darfur],” July 18, 2004), a report that once again reveals the extraordinary brutality of Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia allies—a brutality that includes the raping of eight-year-old girls as well as unspeakable accompanying violence against female victims. Moreover, interview after interview highlights yet again the vicious racial/ethnic hatred animating the Janjaweed, Khartoum’s continuing military weapon of choice:
“The words of members of the Janjawid as reported by a group of Masalit women in Goz Amer refugee camp, interviewed by Amnesty International in May 2004:
“‘You blacks, you have spoilt the country! We are here to burn you…. We will kill your husbands and sons and we will sleep with you! You are our wives.'” (“Rape as a Weapon of War,” July 18, 2004, page 23)
“M., a Masalit chief of the village of Disa, reported that during attacks in June 2003 that [the Janjaweed said]:
“‘You are complicit with the opponents, you are Blacks, no Black can stay here and no Black can stay in Sudan.'” (“Rape as a Weapon of War,” July 18, 2004, page 24)
“M., a 50-year-old woman from Fur Baranga, reported:
“‘The village was attacked during the night in October 2003, when the Arabs came by cars and on horses. They said ‘every black woman must be killed, even the children.'” (“Rape as a Weapon of War,” July 18, 2004, page 23)
The New York Times has also recently offered a savagely revealing portrait of Janjaweed violence:
“Days after the American secretary of state and the United Nations secretary general ended their tour [in early July 2004], witnesses said, gunmen stormed a girls’ school in the desert region of Darfur, chained a group of students together and set the building on fire. The charred remains of eight girls were still in shackles when military observers from the African Union [cease-fire monitoring team] arrived on the scene.” (New York Times (dateline: Nyala, Darfur] July 18, 2004)
INSECURITY AND THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
At the same time that Khartoum continues to use the Janjaweed as a military means of attacking African tribal groups, it is also accelerating its policy of forced expulsion of displaced persons who have sought refuge in camps. Mornei, a camp of approximately 80,000 displaced persons, has been particularly targeted, even as satellite photographic maps of destroyed villages in Darfur reveal Mornei (also “Murnei” and “Mornay”) to be in the most ravaged part of West Darfur State:
“On 17 July , agencies received ‘alarming’ reports that the governor of Western Darfur State and the local humanitarian aid commissioner were planning to relocate 25 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs], or 1,000 families, from Murnei to ‘predestined relocation sites.’ Murnei, one of Darfur’s biggest camps, is home to about 80,000 IDPs.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 20, 2004)
Though this forced expulsion from Mornei may have been temporarily suspended, it comports all too well with publicly articulated ambitions on the part of the Khartoum regime. In the context of announcing previous “success” (i.e., that “86% of the Internally Displaced Persons had already returned to their villages”), Interior Minister Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Husayn—who is also Khartoum’s “special representative on Darfur”— declared that,
“it was ‘most important’ to get people to return to their villages. Each state—Darfur region has three—had its own plan of return.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004)
But the inevitably immense and rapid destructiveness of this policy has been repeatedly stressed recently by humanitarian workers and UN organizations. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reports (July 20, 2004):
“‘The government wants them to go home, the UN wants them to stay,’ said [a humanitarian aid worker]. ‘There is no food [in the villages]: they will go back to die.’ If [Internally Displaced Persons from the camps] are forced to return, they will have no food sources for at least the next 15 months, until after the next harvest in autumn 2005. Furthermore, it is impossible to distribute food in each of the hundreds of villages from which the Internally Displaced Persons have fled.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 20, 2004)
However deliberately destructive this policy may be, it has another sinister purpose, as Amnesty International suggests in a press release today (July 21, 2004), viz. to “ease the international scrutiny of [the Khartoum government’s] actions in Darfur and to give an excuse for removing the numerous humanitarian organizations at present working in the Darfur camps” (Amnesty International press release [London], July 21, 2004).
In furtherance of such a policy, the regime has also brazenly shut down (for “resurfacing”) the critical runway at al-Geneina, capital of West Darfur—and in the process is denying all humanitarian flights the ability to land. So far this extraordinarily consequential shutdown has been greeted with silence on the part of the international community. This in turn works to assure Khartoum that there will be no real pressure to grant unfettered humanitarian access.
Such dramatic interference with humanitarian transport occurs even as security threats to humanitarian personnel and humanitarian convoys are on the rise, with the clear prospect of a forced withdrawal by many organizations in the event of fatal attacks on professional expatriate personnel. Such withdrawal would cripple the entire humanitarian operation in Darfur. This is the real meaning of UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland’s recently declared fear:
“‘my worst scenario [is that] that the security will deteriorate, that we will step back at a moment we have to actually step up [emergency relief]'” (BBC, July 14, 2004).
Attacks on humanitarian workers, drivers, and convoys have been definitively associated with Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia, and Khartoum may deliberately orchestrate a fatal Janjaweed attack on expatriate humanitarian professionals as a means of sabotaging operations.
UN FAILURES TO PLAN EFFECTIVELY FOR THE DARFUR CRISIS
Humanitarian operations face other obstacles as well. In addition to present shortcomings of planning, logistical clarity, and population assessments, various UN organizations are revealing more and more of their previous planning failures. In a breathtaking example of incompetence or disingenuousness, Dr. David Nabarro, head of the UN’s World Health Organization’s “Health Crises Operations,” is reported as declaring that:
“The UN World Health Organization did not think the situation in Darfur would become as desperate as it is. [Nabarro] says the agency underestimated the difficulty of getting enough water supplies and of improving sanitation facilities in the camps. As a result, he says, the amount of available cholera vaccine is not enough to meet the needs.” (Voice of America, July 18, 2004)
This unforgivable “underestimating,” and failure to anticipate obviously impending realities on the ground, will likely cost many thousands of lives. Despite months of warnings from various quarters about the implications of heavy seasonal rains in Darfur, and the obviously rapidly growing camp populations—without sanitary facilities—Dr. Nabarro is only now discerning the “possibility that cholera might arise with the terrible death rates of the kind that we saw in Goma [Democratic Republic of Congo].”
But why didn’t the example of Goma prompt more serious efforts to anticipate the very needs that are now so palpably threatening? Why is this only now occurring to Dr. Nabarro? In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 hundreds of thousands of people fled to Goma in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. An outbreak of cholera killed about 1,000 people a week (Voice of America, July 18, 2004). Was this not lesson enough?
Even more deadly will be the consequences of the failure on the part of the UN World Food Program (WFP) to pre-position large quantities of food supplies in the major towns in Darfur. This failure occurred despite the urgent pleas from humanitarian organizations on the ground, over many months, requesting that the WFP massively increase the quantities of pre-positioned food in anticipation of the rains, as well as the host of current logistical difficulties all too predictably being encountered. Malnutrition is now soaring in large part because of this failing, and the diseases that prey on malnourished populations will soon be claiming over 2,000 lives a day, according to data from the US Agency for International Development (“Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005, at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).
The predicted break in the “food pipeline” this September (see above) also reflects in part UN shortcomings, primarily an inability to work effectively to solicit necessary financial commitments. But here of course the real failure is on the part of potential donor nations that refuse to provide appropriate levels of assistance. While the US, the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands have done their part, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the richer Arab countries are all failing miserably. Though there is a short window of opportunity in which to avert this break in the food pipeline, funding commitments that will allow for present commodity purchases are urgently required, given the time-lag between funding of food shipments and their actual arrival in the humanitarian theater of operations.
GLOBAL NUMBERS IN DARFUR
The international community needs a much more detailed, or at least coherent and transparent, articulation of various figures defining the Darfur crisis. Of particular importance is clarity about the needs of the more than 2.3 million people now defined as “war-affected” (most of whom are completely beyond humanitarian reach). What percentage of this population needs food aid now? How can populations outside the camps be fed? How rapidly is food dependency growing within this population? What are reasonable estimates for the number of “war-affected” persons one month out? two months? three months?
What percentage of people in the camps, formally counted and otherwise, are presently without any clean water, shelter, and latrines, as the rains turn these camps into open sewers? How long do we expect to leave people in these conditions? What percentage of the camp populations can be treated for cholera or dysentery? What capacity for malaria treatment will be on hand in August, when the disease starts to explode with the mosquito populations now hatching?
Too many insufficiently answered questions.
What is the global figure for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Darfur? The figure stood at 1 million in late April 2004, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi], April 21, 2004). That figure was raised by the UN to 1.2 million in late June, and on July 8, 2004 Tom Vraalsen, the U.N.’s special envoy for humanitarian affairs to Sudan, declared that “more than 1.2 million [are] internally displaced” in Darfur (Reuters, July 8, 2004). But yesterday OCHA estimated that the population of Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur increased by 100,000 over the past month (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 20, 2004), would suggest that the total figure is now approximately 1.3 million—plus the approximately 200,000 who are refugees in Chad.
But as great as this aggregated number of 1.5 million is—representing people critically in need of humanitarian aid—there are a great many people in Darfur who haven’t figured in any of these estimates and assessments—or in the calculation of humanitarian assistance required. The estimates of those who have fallen entirely between the “assessment cracks,” who are nowhere accounted for, range from 300,000 (the internal working number at the World Food Program) to 500,000. And beyond this population, there is the very large number of people who may not have been displaced, or who are living with friends or kinsmen, but have exhausted their food reserves, have no access to their land, and desperately need food assistance as well.
Is the population of “war-affected” already much greater than 2.3 million? One senior aid official estimates that the population may reach to 3 million by October: are there contingency plans for such a distinct possibility?
THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS HAS BEEN DELIBERATELY
Too many of these questions about humanitarian capacity and need, as well as the size of the affected populations, cannot be answered because of the consequences of continuing insecurity throughout Darfur. But nothing can obscure the most obvious conclusion deriving from all available evidence: absent robust humanitarian intervention, with fully adequate military support, we cannot possibly meet the present or future needs of the people of Darfur.
For we must never lose sight of the fundamental fact that these desperate human needs for food, water, medical treatment, and shelter derive directly from deliberate military policies, directed against civilian populations, by the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militia proxy. This is the particular value of yesterday’s Human Rights Watch report, establishing so authoritatively the clear and direct connection between the Khartoum regime and the Janjaweed. The complementary value of the Amnesty International report of July 18, 2004 lies in illuminating yet again the vicious racial/ethnic hatred animating the actions of Khartoum’s chosen instrument of human destruction.
We are, in short, obliged to think in the terms that Israel’s Yad Vashem has invoked. Entrusted with documenting the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, Yad Vashem solemnly declared this week:
“During the era of the Holocaust the world was slow to respond to news about the murder of six million Jews. In the 1990s, unrestrained genocide occurred in Rwanda with little or no international acknowledgement of it until after it had ended. It is imperative that we learn the lesson from past failures to respond in time to evolving, genocidal evil. Yad Vashem urges the leaders of the nations of the world to take immediate concerted action to halt the tragedy in Darfur before it devolves further, to provide effective humanitarian aid to the region and to punish the perpetrators of the heinous crimes that are being committed there.” (July 18, 2004)
But the descent into the abyss continues. Meaningful “concerted action,” action that will do all that is necessary to provide necessary humanitarian relief, is nowhere in sight. “Evolving, genocidal evil” is directly before us—will it truly be seen?
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