Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: The most recent reports reveal a relentless deterioration (cont’d)
Eric Reeves, 10 February 2013
Although violence continues to take many civilian lives—nowhere recorded in statistically meaningful fashion—it is the impact of violence on humanitarian delivery, access, capacity, and security that is of deepest concern. The evidence available suggests that a collapse of relief operations is a clear possibility.
 Medical well-being, including mental health; provision of primary health care
There are gross deficiencies in primary health care in all three Darfur states; the number of physicians serving enormous populations is often one or two. Psychosocial services for the vast numbers of displaced are virtually non-existent, even as studies (when they were permitted) have suggested extraordinarily high levels of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In August 2011 the British medical journal The Lancet published findings of a shocking magnitude:
“Investigators of studies with medium to large sample sizes have concluded that forcibly displaced children in low-income and middle-income settings have high rates of psychiatric disorders. Thus 75% of 331 displaced children in camps for internally displaced people in southern Darfur met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression.” (The precise date of data acquisition from South Darfur is not clear in the synopsis that appears on-line at present—ER)
Of course, a very large percentage of those who are displaced have no access to primary health care of any sort:
“the Darfur-based Radio Dabanga reported on 6 February that some 16,000 newly displaced people had arrived in the North Darfur towns of Kabkabiya and Saraf Omra following threats by rival tribal militias. Many of the displaced are living on the streets with no humanitarian support.” (IRIN, February 8, 2013)
“The UK based Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO) said in a report released last week that the number of families displaced by the fighting between the Sudanese army and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid (SLM-AW) in Jebel Marra reached 1,462 families. Last December, UNAMID spoke about 850 families. The affected women and children who do not receive any humanitarian assistance fled to Nirtiti, in [Central/formerly West] Darfur state. Some 20 percent are from Golo and 80 percent are from Jaldo. The SLM-AW took the control of the two mountainous locations respectively on 24 and 28 December .” (Sudan Tribune, February 6, 2013)
There have been a great many fires reported in the camps, some of them of a highly suspicious nature; given the close quarters and flimsy materials used for shelter, these fires can tear through a camp, leaving many displaced persons utterly bereft, and without the benefit of medical or other humanitarian services:
“Several cattle and donkeys were killed and dozens of homes and a mosque were damaged by a ‘huge fire’ that broke out at the Gereida camp, South Darfur, on Monday, an activist told Radio Dabanga. The displaced have suffered ‘heavy losses’ by the fire, which is burning for the last two days…. Families affected by the flames are currently living ‘out in the open without any food, medicine or shelter amid cold temperatures.’ Until now the displaced have ‘not received any aid’ and the activist is urging [that it be provided].” (Radio Dabanga, February 5, 2013)
Denial of access also prevents many from receiving medical treatment. Displaced persons in Saraf Omra and Kabkabiya are being denied all humanitarian access by the Kabkabiya Locality commissioner:
“[Witnesses] said people are still living on the streets and squares in both towns in ‘awful conditions, without food, medicine or cover.’ In addition, they are vulnerable to the ongoing harassment and threats by unknown armed groups at nighttime.” (Radio Dabanga [Seraf Omra], February 3, 2013)
Rape is often not treated, either for lack of medical resources, police or security force resistance to treatment of victims, or a refusal to credit the reports of even fatally injured girls and women. Often in the absence of medical resources, “traditional treatments” are used (see the above account of a nine-year-old girl from Alban Jadid in Sirba locality, brutally gang-raped my pro-regime militia members). The damage from rapes—both mental and physical—is extraordinarily great, and yet too often receives no treatment. Fistulas are common, especially among girls, as well as savage tears in tissue and infection. But most debilitating are the psychosocial consequences: self-loathing, depression, and ostracizing by family, including husbands; knowledge of unwanted pregnancy at the hands of the rapists; the agony of deciding whether to keep the baby or destroy it.
Other humanitarian information and data—including for malnutrition rates, mortality and morbidity rates, clean water per camp resident for specific camps, physicians per 100,000 of population—simply do not exist in the public domain. We have only the relentless reports from Radio Dabanga offering specific accounts from particular camps, accounts that have the authority of eyewitnesses, unless we are accusing Radio Dabanga of fraudulent reporting:
“The increasing number of displaced persons arriving at Zam Zam camp, North Darfur, is contributing to the deteriorating health conditions of its residents, an activist told Radio Dabanga on Tuesday, 22 January. He pointed out that most of the newly-arrived displaced come from East Jebel Marra…. Besides, poor security conditions, especially at nighttime, hinder the movement of vehicles outside the camp affecting pregnant women and children, according to the activist. He appealed to the World Health Organization and to North Darfur’s ministry of health to immediately intervene and ‘save pregnant women and children.'” (January 23, 2013)
Water again looms as an acute humanitarian issue in many locations:
“The population of two displaced camps in [West] Darfur, Hamidiya and Hasahissa, have been suffering an ‘acute shortage’ of potable water for three weeks, forcing them to travel kilometers to the nearest sources. A Zalingei camps coordinator told Radio Dabanga on Thursday that displaced are traveling about three kilometers to reach Azum and Ariba valleys in order to fetch ‘a tin of water.’ He pointed out this exposes them to security problems and makes them vulnerable to attacks by pro-government militias stationed by the roads leading to the water sources. Some of the water the displaced bring back to the camps is contaminated and is causing diarrhea among children, according to the coordinator.
“The camps’ population urged different foreign aid organizations to find a solution to their water-shortage problem, particularly as the summer is approaching. It appears that the government has blocked organizations’ attempts to provide solar energy devices to displaced camps, the coordinator reported. He explained the solar panels would facilitate water supply as old machines could be substituted by new, low-cost ones. The coordinator added that the government is also preventing organizations’ efforts to bring medicines and aid to the camps. He said the International Medical Corporation has been waiting for permission to bring drugs to the displaced since August 2012. (Radio Dabanga [Zalingei], January 24, 2013)
And from North Darfur Radio Dabanga reports (January 23, 2013) on other water issues:
“Displaced [persons] living at camp Kassab near Kutum in North Darfur, are facing a severe shortage of drinking water due to the disruption of 10 hand pumps –out of a total of 26—and of two water tanks. Sheikh Taher Ismail told Radio Dabanga that Kassab’s population is witnessing a water crisis for about four days. He said the displaced must travel long distances to fetch water from villages such as Kambot and Thanawi in Kutum locality. Ismail appealed to competent authorities and organizations to expedite the provision of maintenance to the camp.”
This deliberate delay or obstruction of critical improvements and repairs in displaced persons camps, as well as the delay of potentially life-saving medicines, has long been standard practice by the regime, contravening international humanitarian and human rights law, and in aggregate amounting to crimes against humanity (see African Studies Review, December 2011 at http://www.sudanreeves.org/?p=2734).
So long as civilian displacement continues at present rates, humanitarian resources will be overwhelmed by the difficulties of access, insecurity—much of it contrived—and lack of supplies and distribution capacity:
“Civilians who fled the battles at the Jildu garrison and Golo areas in West Jebel Marra, [West] Darfur, said many displaced are still stranded in different places. Others who reached Nertiti displaced camps are complaining they have not yet received any food, only blankets and mattresses from the Red Cross. Speaking from Nertiti, an activist told Radio Dabanga that several people are stranded in regions such as Kodi Mari, Kiti and Kola. They are ‘living under the shade of tress without food, medicine, and covers.'”
“One of them managed to reach Nertiti on Friday and confirmed the activist’s claims, adding these regions are ‘completely cut off from the world.’ He said the majority of the stranded displaced are women, children, elderly and the sick, ‘as they could not walk long distances.’ The displaced in Nertiti asserted that ‘rations have not reached them until now’ and urged agencies to speed-up the provision of food and medicine to them.” (Radio Dabanga [Nertiti, West Darfur], January 25, 2013)
The examples are endless:
“The health situation continues to deteriorate at the Zam Zam camp in North Darfur. An activist announced the outbreak of the ‘black fever’ disease (also known as kala-azar) at the site, along with a shortage of medicines. Zam Zam’s night clinic halted its operations since the beginning of January and the camp’s ambulance is no longer available. Amid the situation, a large delegation comprising elders, youth representatives and women submitted a memorandum to the ministry of health in El-Fasher. In the document, Zam Zam’s delegation stated they ‘regret’ that the government is ignoring the worsening health conditions at the camp, the activist said. He reaffirmed his previous statement that the arrival of displaced from East Jebel Marra is exacerbating the already critical conditions at the camp.
Even when food is available, it is often denied to those most desperately in need; such denial—often by bureaucratic means—has been repeated countless times in the past, and continues to this day. Radio Dabanga reports (January 24, 2013) on the refusal of officials to distribute food and other humanitarian items in the Abu Gamra area of North Darfur, to which many of those displaced from Jebel Amir have fled:
“Although some agencies brought non-food items to Abu Gamra, North Darfur, displaced are complaining that everything was placed in warehouses instead of being distributed to them….About 27,000 people who fled the tribal clashes between Abbala and Beni Hussein men are living in the rebel-controlled Abu Gamra at the moment, sources say. The displaced stressed they received “only non-food items” so far and renewed their requests for humanitarian organizations to speed-up the provision of food, medicine and drinking water.
“One of them stressed they are living in ‘inhumane, unhealthy and extremely difficult conditions.’ Another person said the situation has become ‘unbearable’ as over 27,000 people are living without food, water and medicine for several days. He acknowledged they need mattresses and blankets but stressed that they also need more food, water and medicine, especially for the children and the sick.” (“‘Aid in warehouses, not distributed’: North Darfur displaced” [Abu Gamra], January 24, 2013)
 Current standard humanitarian measures of well-being, particularly morbidity indicators, malnutrition rates, as well as water quality and availability:
There are no global data for Darfur, or indeed any particular Darfur state. What data are presented often come from the Darfur State Ministries doing Khartoum’s bidding; these are excluded in the following, since they are completely unreliable. Occasionally, OCHA gives evidence of having significant data from some locations:
“According to UNICEF, nutrition surveys conducted at the start of the hunger gap (the lean season between harvests) showed a higher prevalence of malnutrition over the last few years in some locations of North and South Darfur. In some of these locations, prevalence of malnutrition as measured by mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) is high.” (OCHA Fourth Quarter report: Sudan, 2011)
But we might well wonder why specific data do not accompany such generalizations. OCHA also tracks disease trends, as well as food price inflation in the markets of major towns. These are important data but do not speak to the critical tasks of disseminating global data and analysis of malnutrition rates, of water availability, of the presence of primary medical care, and other key statistical barometers of human well-being.
Beyond suspicious figures for “returns” and more reliable information about new displacements, what we learn recently from the UN OCHA “Humanitarian Bulletins: Sudan” is mainly the following:
• February 3, 2013:
The UN OCHA reports that:
On 2 February, the second batch of relief supplies planned for the first phase of the emergency response to the crisis in Jebel Amir left El Fasher town. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) transported by road about 148 metric tonnes (MT) of supplies for health, reproductive health and nutrition assistance; livestock feed; and non-food relief supplies for affected and displaced people in Saraf Omra, Kebkabiya, Garra Az Zawia and El Sireaf. Also on 2 February, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) airlifted 6MT of nutritional supplies and livestock vaccines to El Sireaf, Saraf Omra and Kebkabiya. The supplies transported by road are yet to reach their final destinations. The road conditions are difficult and several of the trucks broke down and were stranded at different locations between Kutum and El Fasher for several days.
Sometimes, however, UN claims are contradicted or highly qualified by what Darfuris report from the ground. The situation in Nertiti is a good example: the UN claims,
“According to humanitarian partners in Nertiti, assistance continues to be provided to people displaced from Jebel Marra. Nearly all of the 7,800 displaced people verified have been provided with non-food relief supplies and food assistance.”
Radio Dabanga reports (see above):
“Civilians who fled the battles at the Jildu garrison and Golo areas in West Jebel Marra, [West] Darfur, said many displaced are still stranded in different places. Others who reached Nertiti displaced camps are complaining they have not yet received any food, only blankets and mattresses from the Red Cross. Speaking from Nertiti, an activist told Radio Dabanga that several people are stranded in regions such as Kodi Mari, Kiti and Kola. They are ‘living under the shade of tress without food, medicine, and covers.'” (Radio Dabanga [Nertiti, West Darfur], January 25, 2013)
Sometimes the UN does call attention to stories severely under-reported, although the source here (Khartoum’s “Humanitarian Aid Commission,” or HAC) is extremely unreliable and has come increasingly under the control of Military Intelligence in Darfur:
“According to HAC in Tullus, South Darfur, there are some 37,500 Umbararo nomads in South Darfur who are unable to cross into South Sudan because the border between the two countries is closed. These nomads have settled in 13 locations in Tullus and Dimso localities. While an assessment is required to identify the exact needs of these groups of nomads, HAC reports that their living conditions are poor and that they are in need of food and non-food relief supplies as well as health, water, and education services.”
And needless to say, Khartoum’s variously ramified responsibility for food insecurity in greater Sudan goes unmentioned, even as the regions mentioned are all scenes of the regime’s brutal military assaults:
“USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reports in its latest update on Sudan that in January 2013, about 3.5 million Sudanese people faced Stressed and Crisis (equivalent to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Phase 2 and 3) levels of food insecurity. Some 80 per cent of the food insecure people are in conflict-affected areas of Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei.”
• January 27, 2013
There is greater and lesser frankness in these OCHA “Bulletins”:
“The United Nations and its humanitarian partners have managed to deliver over 600 metric tonnes of food and other relief supplies to people affected by inter-tribal fighting in the Jebel Amir gold mining area in North Darfur. Revised estimates now put the total number of people displaced or severely affected by the crisis at around 100,000. Many of these people are living in the open in appalling conditions.”
Perhaps most consequentially, OCHA reports on a particularly destructive tactic of obstruction on Khartoum’s part:
“Authorities in North Darfur have not yet authorised an inter-agency team to travel to the affected areas to carry out a comprehensive assessment of needs. The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan is urgently addressing this issue with federal and state authorities in an effort to allow humanitarian actors to continue the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to people affected by the conflict. While some staff of UN agencies and other international organisations have been able to visit some of the affected areas, in the absence of a more comprehensive assessment, it is difficult to have a clear picture of needs and the scale of the emergency.”
Moreover, we learn something about the consequences of a steady attenuation of humanitarian capacity over the past four years:
“Food has been distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP) to over 60,000 people in El Sireaf, and to more than 5,000 people in Garra Al Zawia. In addition, more than 20,000 people received blankets, sleeping mats and plastic sheeting provided by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in El Sireaf, and more than 5,000 in Garra Al Zawia. Non-food relief items for approximately 2,000 people have also been delivered to Abu Gamra but are waiting to be distributed due to the lack of humanitarian partners on the ground.”
The same theme is sounded later in the “Bulletin,” if in characteristically understated terms—for there are simply not enough implementing INGO partners with adequate capacity to respond to any upsurge in humanitarian need:
“More than 100 metric tonnes (MT) of humanitarian supplies are now stockpiled in El Fasher awaiting transportation. These supplies include 41 MT of health and nutrition supplies; 1.2MT of reproductive health supplies; 9MT of water, sanitation and hygiene supplies; and 57MT of animal feed and vaccines. So far, humanitarian actors have been depending on the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) to assist with the transportation of humanitarian supplies. To accelerate the rate of response, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been approached to assist in the transportation of non-food relief supplies.”
In the absence of shelter supplies, displaced people are increasingly likely to seize whatever shelter presents itself:
“In El Sireaf, the locality commissioner has reported the closure of public offices and schools in the locality due to the large number of displaced people who have taken refuge in these buildings. According to the commissioner, there are 25,000 displaced people in the local boys’ school, 25,000 people in the girls’ school, 5,000 people in the locality office compound, 3,500 people in the mixed school and 1,500 people in the locality council office.”‘
Sometimes there is significant overlap in what is reported by OCHA and Radio Dabanga, here for example on the health risks of animals dying for lack of forage in urban locations:
“According to national humanitarian actors on the ground, pasture is running out in areas where animals are concentrated in El Sireaf, mainly in the town and in nearby surrounding areas. Many displaced people came to the area with their livestock, putting significant pressure on available grazing. This confinement is reportedly causing animal deaths and carcasses are being left unburied posing a serious health risk.”
• January 20, 2013:
OCHA again reports on deliberate obstruction of humanitarian efforts by Khartoum’s local officials, with potentially deadly consequences:
“According to local community leaders, there are up to 20,000 people displaced in Abu Gamra, an area that humanitarian actors have not been able to access and verify. The needs of the displaced people in accessible areas are non-food items, health services and water and sanitation facilities. Humanitarian organisations have started to provide relief aid to people displaced by the conflict [between the Beni Hussein and the Northern Rizeigat]. However, so far it has only been possible to carry out a limited number of rapid assessments and there is an urgent need for comprehensive needs assessments to be carried out.
• January 13, 2013
Again, there is often significant overlap between OCHA and Radio Dabanga reports, though typically only in broad global terms rather than the specifics of humanitarian conditions and needs. OCHA reports that,
“clashes that started on 24 December 2012 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and an armed movement in Golo (Rokero locality) and Guldo (Nertiti locality) in the Jebel Marra area of [formerly West] Darfur have continued. According to reports received by the UN, the village of Hella Fatah, in Guldo, was bombed by SAF aircraft killing one child. The UN also received reports of 10 civilians killed and several injured as a result of the aerial bombardment of Dorsa village in Golo on 11 January. A school building was reportedly destroyed during the incident. People from Golo and Guldo continue to be displaced to nearby villages and neighbouring localities. According to HAC, about 30,000 people have been displaced from Golo and Guldo, with some 7,500 people, mostly women and children, having arrived in Nertiti town. Humanitarian actors expect more people to arrive in Nertiti if fighting continues.”
All such aerial assaults are war crimes and violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (March 2005). The bombing in Jebel Marra, now of several years, has intensified and produced significantly more human displacement:
“According to community leaders, by 9 January, some 3,000 people from Jebel Marra had arrived in Dali, Argo and Rwanda IDP camps, located outside Tawila town in North Darfur. They also report that an armed militia group looted and burnt houses in Kushnei village. An inter-agency needs assessment mission is scheduled to go to Tawila shortly.”
And the issue of humanitarian relief restrictions and obstruction is also noted, if again quietly:
“The United National Population Fund (UNFPA) is sending 1,000 hygiene kits from El Geneina [West Darfur]. Norwegian Church Aid plans to re-stock their clinic in Nertiti; however, they are still waiting for permission from the authorities to transport their medical supplies from Zalingei. The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has agreed to assist with the transportation of humanitarian supplies to Nertiti.”
In present circumstances, such deliberate delays, bureaucratic obstacles, and dilatory responses are a means of civilian destruction.
 Almost entirely missing from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s October 2012 report is any useful account of the immobilizing of displaced persons, the prevention of agricultural production, and the deliberate destruction of mature crops. Radio Dabanga has for its part reported continually on this phenomenon, which cannot be separated from the issues of safe, voluntary returns:
“Displaced living in Mornei, West Darfur, are complaining about their inability to cultivate their winter crops outside the camp because of the presence of pro-government militias stationed outside the area. A camp leader told Radio Dabanga on Monday the militiamen have been based outside Mornei since the tribal clashes between the Abbala and Beni Hussein broke out in Jebel ‘Amer, North Darfur on 5 January. He said there is virtually no life outside the camp and appealed to government authorities and UNAMID to send patrols to the area so that displaced can cultivate their crops and collect firewood.”
The story is very much the same for South Darfur (again, by “herders” Radio Dabanga typically refers to nomadic Arab groups, often heavily armed and part of the pro-regime militias):
“Meanwhile, farmers from villages in Kass locality, South Darfur, told Radio Dabanga that herders armed by the government are continually forcing their cattle on their lands in addition to carrying out attacks against them. The most targeted villages are Dirso, Kirinde, and Kassola, south of Kass locality, they said, stressing the police have been informed about the incidents. One of the farmers said that the same group of herders attacked a vehicle transporting tomatoes from Kirinde to Nyala on Sunday. The gunmen forced the driver and the passengers off their vehicle, made them spread the tomatoes on the ground and beat them with rifle butts and whips. The passengers were severely injured and the herders forced their livestock to eat the tomatoes.”
“Sources revealed these areas are witnessing a series of fierce attacks by herders lately and they claim to have sent a delegation to the city of Kass to meet with the commissioner and with the police. The delegation informed the authorities about the violations and abuses they have been suffering and about the losses and destruction caused by cattle herders in the farms. However, they recounted, the police ‘did not pay any attention to their complaints’ and sent them back to their villages.” (Radio Dabanga, February 4, 2013)
Still another report from Radio Dabanga (January 30, 2013) suggests how comprehensive the physical threats are to displaced persons and their livelihoods:
“Displaced from Kendebe camp in Sirba locality, West Darfur, assert that Tuesday’s [January 29, 2013] onslaught by a pro-government militia is costing them ‘millions of Sudanese pounds in damages.’ They told Radio Dabanga the militia destroyed and looted 23 shops at the central market, taking with them ‘all kinds of goods.’ In addition, the gunmen stole ‘baby clothes, chicken, livestock, grain mills and water’ from 2,000 homes in Kendebe. Radio Dabanga reported that a pro-government militia enclosed the police station of camp Kendebe on Tuesday in addition to looting homes, the central market and beating civilians.”
And in North Darfur yet again Radio Dabanga provides our only credible account of violence directed at African farmers and Arab “camel herders” (January 23, 2013):
“‘Winter crops’ farmers in the locality of El-Fasher, North Darfur, have been suffering ‘fierce attacks by camel herders’ in the last days that include beating and looting. According to them, herders are armed by the government. One of the victims told Radio Dabanga on Tuesday [January 22, 2013] that alleged perpetrators force their camels onto plantations for grazing. This leads the workers to suffer huge losses of different kinds of crops. As a result, about 800 farmers may be probed by their banks, as they lent 250 pounds each to partially fund their winter crops. The affected areas are Goz Bena, Hillat Faki Ali and Arab Bashir. Farmers urged authorities to intervene and protect them and their lands.”
And there is much that makes clear that the vast majority of attacks, certainly in North Darfur but in other Darfur states as well, are by Abbala (camel) “herders,” such as the Northern Rizeigat. Again, it is from the Abbala tribal groups that Khartoum drew most substanitally in mobilizing the Janjaweed in 2003; these heavily armed men were in turn frequently recycled subsequently into other paramilitary forces serving the regime (e.g., the Abu Tira, or Central Reserve Police, the Border Intelligence Guards, and the Popular Defense Forces). They operate with complete impunity:
“A group of Abbala members attacked the market of camp El-Salam, in South Darfur on Friday evening, 18 January. The militants, riding camels, carried out the assault because one of their fellow tribesmen was killed in the area and they wanted to receive blood money, they claimed. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that shops were closed and camp’s residents fled to their homes following the events at the market. Authorities intervened and tried preventing the Abbala men from raiding the site, but the perpetrators did not follow the orders, a displaced said.” (Radio Dabanga, January 18, 2013)
Particularly consequential for the long-term stability of Darfur is the highly worrying intimidation of displaced persons who have dared to return to their lands or to work the lands near camps is relentless; such intimidation is relentless and increasingly systematic and violent:
“Two young sisters were raped in turns by men of a pro-government militia group in the region of Tabet, North Darfur on Sunday, a witness reports. Also on Sunday, the same group looted a number of citizens traveling on the road connecting El-Fasher and Tabet. The sisters were assaulted when working on their farm by a pro-government militia group stationed in Umm Hashab, where they are carrying a ‘large-scale sweep,’ a source suggested. One of the assaulted sisters is 20 years old and the other, a handicapped girl, is 15 years old, according to witnesses.” (Radio Dabanga [Tabet], January 27, 2013)
Travel is also endangered by the actions of militia forces that Khartoum clearly tolerates, indeed encourages to create levels of insecurity that prevent internal travel in Darfur, particularly by the displaced (overwhelming non-Arab or African):
“Gunmen beat and looted a group of eighteen passengers at the Les Kineh area in Tawila locality, North Darfur, on Sunday, 27 January. Eight of the passengers suffered severe head injuries. The omda of the Rwanda Camp in Tawila, one of the victims, told Radio Dabanga the armed group is led by a ‘historical leader’ called Osman Mohamed Ibrahim. He has reportedly signed an internal peace agreement with the government of North Darfur last year. Omda Moussa Muhtar Bosh said the perpetrators intercepted the civilian truck, traveling from Tawila to Nyala, at about 8:00am and ‘immediately began physically threatening the passengers.’ The militiamen, ‘driving heavily armed vehicles mounted with Dushkas,’ stole 93 million Sudanese pounds belonging to the eight injured passengers and 18 mobile phones.”
“As it appears, the militia group has been stationed on the area for three months now, around the Tarne area, and they continue to loot vehicles and passengers. The targeted roads are the ones connecting Tawila to El-Fasher, Tawila to Nyala and Tawila to Tabet. These gunmen have become ‘a source of horror and concern for citizens,’ Bosh pointed out. He appealed to authorities to stop the militia and bring them to justice. Please note that the group who carried out the attacks above is not the same as the one stationed in Tabet, North Darfur, who raped and looted civilians also on Sunday.” (Radio Dabanga [Tawila], January 27, 2013)
How cynical and callous is Khartoum in denying humanitarian access? One very recent incident gives us direct insight into the tactics of the men who make up this regime:
“A United Nations report indicates that the government of North Darfur has ‘not yet authorized an inter-agency team to travel’ the areas affected by the tribal clashes between Abbala and Beni Hussein to carry out a comprehensive assessment of needs of the displaced. Nevertheless, the UN and its partner agencies claim to have delivered ‘over 600 metric tons of food and other relief supplies’ to those who fled their villages.
In the area where conflict recently raged between the Beni Hussein and Abbala, Khartoum has permitted its Abbala militia allies to block key roads:
“Vital roads connecting Kabkabiya and Saraf Omra and al-Sref Beni Hussein and Saraf Omra remain closed, despite the cease-fire agreement signed recent between the warring parties, [an] activist pointed out. He stressed the charter stipulated that all roads should be opened, [and that] has not yet happened. According to the activist, this is preventing trucks carrying rations and non-food items from reaching Al-Sref Beni Hussein city. In addition, some vehicles transporting aid from Saraf Omra to Al-Sref Beni Hussein were stopped by Abbala men stationed on the road who ordered them to turn around. There are currently ‘several trucks’ stationed in Saraf Omra waiting to deliver aid. Student activists called on authorities to ‘do their job’ and open the roads immediately.” (Radio Dabanga, 23 January 2013)
Radio Dabanga reported on January 30, 2013 other obstructions of key road arteries, all of which require the acquiescence of Khartoum’s SAF:
“Raids carried out by pro-government militias on the road connecting El-Fasher and Tawila in North Darfur is putting the traffic flow and the movements of citizens at a complete halt, residents claim. [One resident] asserted that all movement on the road ‘completely stopped one week ago.’ Citizens are demanding that Tawila’s commissioner provides them protection and ensures that traffic can be resumed. However, the commissioner responded that civilians should be the ones recruiting protection for themselves and for commercial convoys.”
Despite this deliberate obstruction by Khartoum, Radio Dabanga’s report from Tawila—
“the UN and its partner agencies claim to have delivered ‘over 600 metric tons of food and other relief supplies’ to those who fled their villages, despite opposition by local authorities….”
—may be an important signal if it reflects a decision somewhere within the OCHA hierarchy not to accept, under present dire circumstances, Khartoum’s objection-by-local-government-proxy. The human stakes are simply too high, someone appears to have concluded:
“UN estimates that around 100,000 people fled their homes as a result of the fighting that began at the start of this month, adding that ‘many of these people are living in the open in appalling conditions.‘ According to the latest figures provided by the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) on 26 January, 65,000 people fled to Al-Sref Beni Hussein, 7,090 to Garra Az Zawia, 1,000 to Kabkabiya and 2,000 to Saraf Omra. Local community leaders report that there are up to 20,000 displaced people in Abu Gamra.” (Radio Dabanga, February 1, 2013)
We should be cautiously hopeful, and all efforts possible should be made to secure UN political support for such a decision, if indeed it has been made at OCHA.
 Displacement and “returns” in Darfur:
It is in this last arena that UN distortion is perhaps greatest—and most consequential—for understanding the scale of the continuing human catastrophe in Darfur. For the UN has reduced the figure of 2.7 million IDPs (UN OCHA’s figure in “Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34,” January 1, 2009) to the current OCHA figure of “1.4 million IDPs in camps receiving food aid” from the UN World Food Program (WFP). Notably, this figure appears for the first time in November 2012 Bulletins: there is no such estimate in previous Bulletins. Indeed, in the September 2, 2012 Sudan Bulletin the figure is “1.7 million IDPs registered in camps in Darfur” (registration is typically conducted by WFP). Whence this reduction—by 300,000—in the space of two months with no significant reports of returns? How was the figure calculated?
And why was November the moment the UN chose to promulgate a figure that can only please Khartoum and redound to the credit of UNAMID, which is desperate for some sign of success? What was the methodology by which this figure was established? Where are the data? Who collected them? And if the figure represents only those registered to receive food aid from WFP, how representative is it? Why no mention of the 280,000 Darfuri refugees who remain in eastern Chad? (The OCHA Sudan “Bulletins” give refugee figures for those who have fled Blue Nile and South Kordofan to South Sudan and Ethiopia—but not for Darfuris who have fled to Chad.) What about internally displaced persons who are not in the camps, but rather with host families and villages (early in the conflict OCHA estimated this number might have been as high as 600,000). And what of the massive number of those newly displaced since the January 1, 2009 date for the last OCHA Darfur Humanitarian Profile (No. 34)—well over 1 million civilians? How are they accommodated in a new figure that reduces the total number of displaced (as measured by WFP assistance) by 1.3 million people?
Where is the explanation? Where are the data? Where is methodology?
Again, on January 1, 2009 OCHA referred to 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons (Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34). Since early 2010 the figure for displaced has been drifting downward without any justifying study. As of early July 2010 OCHA began to refer to “1.9 million” IDPs—800,000 people had, in little over a year, become “un-displaced” (http://ochaonline.un.org/humanitarianappeal/webpage.asp?Page=1878 ). The only “source” offered by OCHA for this radical downsizing of an intensely distressed population is buried in a terse footnote, referring simply to work by the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM): “IOM Sudan (2009).” This was the entire citation. There was no indication of precise date, title, researchers, links, or anything that would allow a reader to understand what was signified by this reference. This is not surprising, since the IOM report was never in fact completed because of excessive difficulty in obtaining adequate data from all three Darfur states. (An inquiry I made of OCHA Sudan in March 2011 yielded no useful account of these issues; indeed, there was no mention of a role for IOM in establishing the new figure for IDPs.)
This wasn’t a statistically justified reduction; it was expedient distortion for political purposes.
And where are the data for the further reduction from 1.9 million to 1.7 million—and then two months later to 1.4 million—all this in two and a half extremely violent years? Here we should remember that violence and displacement have consistently correlated extremely highly in the years of the Darfur conflict. In fact, the UN’s own figures, and those of INGOs, make clear just how great displacement has been in recent years:
[a] 2007: OCHA estimated that 300,000 Darfuris were newly displaced;
[b] 2008: OCHA estimated that 317,000 Darfuris were newly displaced;
[c] 2009: OCHA promulgated no figure of its own, but the Canadian “Peace Operations Monitor” found evidence suggesting that “over 214,000 people were newly displaced [in Darfur] between January and June  alone.” Given the reports of violent displacement that followed June 2009, a total figure for the year of 250,000 seems conservative.
[d] 2010: the figure for 2010 was again not calculated by OCHA, although by the end of November, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre had estimated that “268,000 [Darfuris were] newly displaced.” The OCHA Sudan Bulletin (January 7 – 13, 2011) reports that the “overall number of people displaced during the December 2010 fighting in the area of Khor Abeche stands at 43,000.” 300,000 newly displaced for the year again seems a conservative figure.
[e] 2011: there is no single aggregated figure promulgated by the UN or any other body. But several reports make clear that the number is well in excess of 100,000, and most likely in excess of 200,000. By March 2011 OCHA had estimated that,
“Tens of thousands of people continue to flee their homes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur for the safety of internally displaced people’s camps after recent fighting between government forces and armed militias. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 66,000 IDPs have arrived in camps in North and South Darfur since January. At least 53,000 are in and around North Darfur State’s Zam Zam IDP Camp.” (IRIN [Nairobi], 16 March 2011)
Aerial bombardment in eastern Darfur, almost completely unreported except by Radio Dabanga, has also displaced tens of thousands of civilians:
“…late 2010 and the first half of 2011 saw a significant offensive by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and militias, backed by airstrikes and aerial bombardments, targeting both rebel groups and the Zaghawa civilian population across a broad swathe of eastern Darfur.”
(Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana, “Forgotten Darfur: Old Tactics and New Players,” (July 2012). This Small Arms Survey report is based on field research conducted from October 2011 through June 2012, and supplemented by extensive interviews, a full desk review of available reports, and a wide range of communication with regional and international actors.)
[g] 2012: OCHA’s figure for the year is 90,000 – 100,000, a conspicuously untenable estimate in light of all evidence (“Sudan Bulletin,” January 20, 2013). For example, Radio Dabanga reported (November 30, 2012) on the clear pattern of systematic civilian clearances now evident:
“Several sources stressed to Radio Dabanga that while beating them, militiamen were screaming that they are following official instructions to [NB] ‘clean and crush the whole of East Jebel Marra.’ Besides, the militiamen were instructed to ‘clear the roads between El-Fasher and Nyala,’ according to testimonies. Witnesses affirmed the instructions came from the Minister of Defense Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein and Sudan’s first Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha. The federal authorities, sources recounted, reportedly ordered the militias to ‘clean up the area within three months and report back to them once the job is done.’ In addition, the armed groups brought very sophisticated weapons from Kutum, which were used during the looting ‘to make the locals poor’ according to their systematic policy, sources said.”
Radio Dabanga offered a great many dispatches, throughout the year, on other significant civilian displacements.
[g] 2013: The UN and others report total human displacement already exceeds 100,000 for the Jebel Marra area near Golo in West Darfur and the Jebel Amir area of North Darfur.
The total for the years noted here, for newly displaced persons, comes to well over 1.3 million—the very number OCHA would have us believe reflects a reduction in displaced persons, at least as measured by WFP assistance as of November 2012.
At the same time, claims about returns are extremely dubious, and in some cases appear fraudulent (see Sudan Tribune, March 12, 2012). And even accepting the current (and unprecedented) OCHA figure of “120,000 – 130,000” safe, voluntary returns by Darfuris in 2012 (January 20, 2013 “Bulletin”), or the figure of “165,000″ returns since January 2011 per the 2012 Third Quarter Sudan Humanitarian Update, the statistical disparity between what has been reported—including by UN OCHA itself—and the currently promulgated figure of 1.4 million IDPs defies explanation except as the product of bad faith and deliberate misrepresentation.
Again, where is the statistical explanation? Where are the data? Where is the methodology? And where are the mortality data that will enable us to calculate how many of those no longer “displaced” have achieved permanence only in their graves?
Will things change?
“Government missile’ kills young girl in Golo [West Darfur]” (Radio Dabanga)
GOLO (4 February 2013) – The rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid (SLM-AW) are claiming that government forces fired six missiles on the city of Golo, Central Darfur, killing one girl and injuring two others. They also reported seeing an Antonov airplane flying over the area on Monday. On the same day, eyewitnesses confirmed seeing an Antonov airplane and affirmed hearing “loud gunfire noises” and seeing thick clouds of smoke rising from the areas of Golo and Jildu garrison in West Jebel Marra. Mustafa Tambour, SLM-AW spokesman, told Radio Dabanga government forces fired “six long-range missiles” on Golo at 8:00am. One of the missiles hit a girls’ secondary school, killing the student Arafa Mohamed Adam Abdallah and injuring Amina Ibrahim Abdulrasool and Kaltuom Omar Tor.”
The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and security crises in Darfur will not end without the kind of political leadership that is nowhere in evidence in the UN—within OCHA, the Secretariat, or the Security Council. Nor have the U.S., the Europeans, the African Union, and other geopolitical actors of consequences demonstrated the requisite determination to end a decade-long genocidal nightmare, by confronting Khartoum directly over its immensely destructive assaults on human lives and livelihoods. These actions have brought charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide from the International Criminal Court against President Omar al-Bashir, Defense Minister Abdel Rahmin Mohamed Hussein, and Ahmed Haroun—former State Minister for the Interior under Hussein during the most violent years in Darfur and currently presiding over the regime’s campaign of annihilation in South Kordofan.
Certainly the international community gives every sign of being intimidated by the ruthlessness of this regime, which deliberately obstructs humanitarian relief, allows its militia allies to target food production—knowing full well the consequences of such actions—and deliberately targets civilians by military means, either directly or using militia proxies. Collectively these actions have brought humanitarian relief to the point of collapse. And in the end there is little difference between a young boy who dies of malaria or malnutrition and a girl who is killed in her school by an indiscriminate aerial attack?
How will we explain our acceptance of these realities, knowing full well those responsible and the barbaric motives that guide them? It will evidently be history that provides an answer, for we have none.
APPENDIX: Analyses of violence and its consequences for humanitarian conditions in Darfur, 2011 – 2012
• “Darfur Humanitarian Overview: The Consequences of International Silence,” January 23, 2011
• “Darfur: ‘De-Emphasized,’ ‘De-Coupled,’ and Finally Denied,” February 15, 2011
• “Darfur Pushed Further Into the Shadows” (in two parts), July 27, 2011
• “Darfur: No Way Forward from a Dangerous and Unsustainable Situation,” August 30, 2011
• “Darfur: The Genocide the World Got Tired Of,” November 24, 2011
• In 2012, I published a series of analyses focusing on growing violence and insecurity in Darfur, continuing a theme that had been prominent in these earlier briefs. This effort culminated with an extensive three-part account of human security in Darfur’s three states at year’s end 2012.
• Earlier analyses are all organized and synthesized within Section 1a and 1b of my recently released eBook, Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012 (October 22, 2012, www.CompromisingWithEvil.org).