Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Humanitarian assistance in Darfur "hanging by a thread" (Eric Reeves & Doctors Without Borders)

Since the Israeli/Lebanese crisis erupted on July 12, most of the international news media have stopped paying much attention to other ongoing crises (even reporting about Gaza has almost dried up). Meanwhile, in those other places people continue to die (in much larger numbers than in Lebanon & Israel). And in Darfur, as informed observers have been warning for months, a major intensification of the catastrophe is looming ahead. As I put it several weeks ago in Darfur Going over the edge? (James Smith & Eric Reeves):
Conditions in Darfur and neighboring eastern Chad, which are already overwhelmingly awful, are--incredibly enough--on the verge of taking a dramatic turn for the worse.
A more recent report by Eric Reeves, "[Humanitarian] Assistance in Darfur Hanging by a Thread", is an important update.
Despite the blandly disingenuous words of UN officials such as Jan Pronk, and the shameful silence of African Union officials, the catastrophe in Darfur continues to deepen---relentlessly, dangerously, uncontrollably. Malnutrition and mortality are rising rapidly, and growing water shortages will result in the increased use of unsanitary ground water during the current rainy season. [....]
Insecurity has also increased steadily, with a recent spate of deadly attacks on humanitarians that has produced evacuations and suspensions of operations.[....]
The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) has collapsed with shocking rapidity. [....] [I]t matters little what may have been written into the Darfur Peace Agreement: without credible international guarantees and guarantors, the document is worthless and proves itself more so every day. That the international community has no intention of providing such guarantees and guarantors is also clearer by the day. The current disintegration in Darfur that has left humanitarian assistance “hanging by a thread” is accelerating, and the thread will soon break entirely.
Some highlights follow below, but please read the whole thing.

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
Eric Reeves - "Assistance in Darfur Hanging by a Thread--Doctors Without Borders, July 2006 (July 29, 2006)

Amidst escalating violence and increasing attacks on humanitarian workers, aid to conflict-affected civilians continues to collapse

Despite the blandly disingenuous words of UN officials such as Jan Pronk, and the shameful silence of African Union officials, the catastrophe in Darfur continues to deepen---relentlessly, dangerously, uncontrollably. Malnutrition and mortality are rising rapidly, and growing water shortages will result in the increased use of unsanitary ground water during the current rainy season. Water-borne diseases are already increasingly prevalent and will continue to spread through September. The current outbreak of cholera is poised to explode in any number of camps that have diminished humanitarian resources, fewer sanitary latrines, and in many cases are still absorbing large numbers of newly displaced persons as violence continues apace in many locations.

Insecurity has also increased steadily, with a recent spate of deadly attacks on humanitarians that has produced evacuations and suspensions of operations. As Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) notes this week in its “latest operational update”:

“Despite the signing of a peace agreement in early May, violence has escalated. While the government and rebels have clashed and attacks on civilians have continued in certain areas of
Darfur, fighting between different branches of the rebellion has increased, plunging Darfur into deeper insecurity.” (MSF, "Assistance in Darfur Hanging by a Thread,” July 26, 2006)

As a consequence, over 2 million people in Darfur remain trapped in camps for Internally Displaced Persons, civilians “too scared to return to their homes and continue to live in camps that amount to open-air jails” (MSF update). And the camps themselves are increasingly dangerous, with a growing prevalence of weapons, the presence of rebels soldiers, and deadly incursions into the camps by
Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia proxy.

At the same time, the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 5, 2006 has collapsed completely, even as Khartoum has made clear that it has no intention of re-starting or re-energizing the peace process: [....]

Even more destructive of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) are the wide-ranging military offensives launched by Khartoum’s regular armed forces and Janjaweed allies in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur and the KulKul area north of el-Fasher (North Darfur State) [....] Khartoum never had any intention of abiding by either the Darfur Peace Agreement or the N’Djamena ceasefire, and the major, well-prepared attacks of yesterday are only the most conspicuous evidence of bad faith to date. [....]

MINNI MINAWI: "JANJAWEED 2"

Although Khartoum’s culpability in this renewed act of war is patent here, the chaotic nature of the fighting and the factionalizing of the combatants needs some clarification, particularly as this factionalized fighting on the part of the Darfuri insurgency movements is now a primary source of insecurity throughout
Darfur. [Most of the Darfur rebel groups did not sign the Abuja "peace" agreement. However,] Minni Minawi, who did sign the Abjua accord and is widely reviled by Darfuris, even those in his own Zaghawa tribe. It is Minawi [....] has been receiving military support directly from Khartoum in his attacks on civilians in North Darfur in a desperate bid to regain his previous control of the area. Minawi is slated to become the fourth-ranking member of the National Islamic Front “Government of National Unity,” with the title of “Presidential Assistant.” [....]

The US, in its inexcusable haste to ram through a peace agreement in Darfur, did not care that in the end the only signatories were Khartoum’s genocidaires and the murderous Minni Minawi. The picture of President Bush and the soon-to-be Presidential Assistant Minni Minawi of the National Islamic Front makes a mockery of the Bush administration genocide determination for Darfur, and the President’s consistently glib invocation of the word. [....]

[WILL HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS ABANDON DARFUR?]


These are just some of the assaults in recent weeks that have targeted or threatened humanitarian workers; there have been many scores of attacks, kidnappings, and hijackings since security began to deteriorate badly last August/September, and a number of aid workers have been killed or wounded. The upshot of such insecurity is that fewer and fewer of those in need can be reached by humanitarian efforts. [....]

2004 was the year of greatest [direct] genocidal violence, directed by Khartoum’s regular military forces and Janjaweed allies against the non-Arab/African populations of Darfur perceived as supporting the insurgency movements. Rural villages of the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa were particular targets. It is as a result of this earlier violence that some 2.5 million people have been displaced (including into neighboring Chad), and that internally displaced persons camps in Darfur have some 2 million people trapped in terrible conditions. [....] Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides in its recent report a grim account of the further attenuation of humanitarian relief:

“When the town of Golo in North Darfur state and its surroundings were attacked at the end of January [2006], uprooting 60,000 people who fled to the neighboring mountains, MSF teams were forced to evacuate the town. Since then, MSF has been trying to reach the displaced in the face of numerous attacks on vehicles operated by humanitarian aid agencies, including several of MSF's. In recent weeks, in the three states of
Darfur, a spate of serious security incidents affecting MSF and other organizations has impeded movements and limited the possibility of providing assistance.” [ ]

“Beyond the ongoing violence, MSF is facing the possibility of fewer aid agencies operating in
Darfur. MSF is not an exception, having been forced to suspend some of its activities in recent weeks. Some aid agencies have had to evacuate certain regions of Darfur due to insecurity and attacks. Moreover, for months, nongovernmental organizations that depend on government funding have been forced to cut back their programs. If other aid agencies reduce the scope of their programs, if the quality of the water delivered becomes inadequate, if malnutrition rates increase, if epidemics emerge, MSF teams may have to compensate, and our own capacity is already reaching its limits.” [ ]

“In April [2006], the World Food Program (WFP) announced that it was halving its food allocations for the displaced because of large funding shortfalls. WFP received increased funds after this announcement, but it is still incapable of providing full food distributions. Other than these food distributions, displaced Darfurians have virtually no resources to ensure their survival. People cannot farm because of the insecurity that reigns outside the camps. At most, they can earn a little money selling firewood gathered in the nearby bush, but even there they risk being attacked.”

“And the toughest months lie ahead. The months of July to October bring both the ‘lean’ period and the rainy season. The first is characterized by limited food in the markets and among families who are still able to farm and would ordinarily be in a position to help their neighbors. The rainy season is traditionally associated with an increase in potentially life-threatening diarrheic illnesses.”

“Over the past year, temporary breakdowns in the food distribution system have resulted in a significant increase in malnutrition. In Mornay [West Darfur], where 75,000 displaced people are housed, the number of admissions for severe malnutrition in the MSF hospital rose from 10 to 20 admissions per month from January to May 2005 and from 80 to 120 admissions per month from July to October [2005]. This increase, which coincided with delays in food distributions to the camps, is too great to be the result of seasonal fluctuation.” (Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières, “latest operational update,”
July 26, 2006)

MSF rightly highlights the continuing danger facing women gathering firewood near camps (which, as the areas around the camps are gradually stripped, requires more distant travel). SOAT also reported in its “Human Rights Alert” of
July 26, 2006:

“On
24 July 2006, approximately 25 armed militias, some in army uniform, attacked twenty women outside Kalma internally displaced camp in Nyala, South Darfur. The women were attacked whilst they were collecting firewood. The women had gone outside the camp as a collective in the false belief that they would be safe from attack as a group. During the attack, the militias beat the women with the butt of their guns and flogged them before raping seventeen of the women."

THE DARFUR PEACE AGREEEMENT

The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) has collapsed with shocking rapidity. No facile comments from the UN’s
Pronk, US officials, or other international actors who pushed through this deeply flawed agreement can change the brutal realities on the ground, and the rapid deterioration in security. The African Union may have been funded through October 1, 2006---perhaps even beyond---but it has lost all credibility with the people of Darfur. It simply cannot function meaningfully in providing security for civilians or humanitarians.

The Darfur Peace Agreement was from the beginning without meaningful international guarantors of the security arrangements; the current escalation of fighting could have been, and was, predicted. The implementation of the various provisions of the DPA is failing because
Khartoum feels no meaningful international pressure, indeed is content to abuse publicly the very notion of a UN peace support operation. The International Criminal Court is held in similar contempt. The large-scale military offensives in Jebel Moon and North Darfur are not aberrations but deeply symptomatic of the National Islamic Front’s contempt for all agreements it makes with all Sudanese parties. Indeed, the DPA has perversely come to serve as “justification” for Khartoum’s assaults on those who are not signatories. [....]

The point here is not so much Pronk’s dismaying and destructive incompetence as it is about the failure of Khartoum to honor the terms of the DPA. Thus it matters little what may have been written into the Darfur Peace Agreement: without credible international guarantees and guarantors, the document is worthless and proves itself more so every day. That the international community has no intention of providing such guarantees and guarantors is also clearer by the day. The current disintegration in Darfur that has left humanitarian assistance “hanging by a thread” is accelerating, and the thread will soon break entirely.

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