Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Darfur Faces 'Perfect Storm' of Human Destruction" - Eric Reeves

As Rainy Season Nears, Darfur Faces "Perfect Storm" of Human Destruction
Posted by: Eric Reeves on Mar 07, 2006 - 07:51 PM (News)

Collapsing security, funding shortfalls, humanitarian evacuations, growing violence in Chad, looming war in Eastern Sudan---and political dithering by international community

[Some highlights follow, but read the whole thing. --JW]

Eric Reeves
March 7, 2006

The Economist (UK) began a recent news analysis with an appropriately blunt question:
“The mayhem in Darfur, in western Sudan, where some 400,000 people may have been killed and 2 million-plus displaced, is worsening. The misery is spreading west into neighbouring Chad, unhinging that country and threatening a proxy war with Sudan. What can be done?” (“Chaos in western Sudan is threatening to engulf neighboring Chad” [dateline: N’Djamena, Chad], The Economist, March 2, 2006).
Obscenely, the question posed (“what can be done?”) has only answers increasingly attenuated by circumstances on the ground. “What can be done” to halt ongoing genocide by attrition---given the widespread and conspicuous failure of international will to date---is increasingly little. Darfur is poised to see a season of death like no other in this three-year catastrophe. Having dithered, delayed, postured, and obfuscated for so long, the international community has now simply run out of time. The most urgent of currently contemplated responses simply cannot halt the cascade of deadly effects rippling across the brutalized terrain of Darfur. Huge numbers will die in the coming rainy season, especially children under five (the rainy season runs from June to September, with July, August, and September typically the months of heaviest rains). Indeed, there are already signs of increased mortality, as well as morbidity and malnutrition that are harbingers of accelerating mortality rates.
A recent overview from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs offers an unsparing assessment of curent trends. The prosaically entitled “Preliminary analysis of the impact of reduced access and funding shortages on humanitarian activities” (February 2006) forces upon us a terrifying vision of the likely consequences---near- to medium-term---of the ongoing contraction of humanitarian delivery, access, and resources. A highlighted selection of conclusions from this important assessment appears below.
Even as evidence mounts daily of a dramatic re-escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, there is---in a terrible inverse ratio---less and less evidence of a willingness by the international community to mount the humanitarian intervention that might protect humanitarian operations and acutely vulnerable civilians. The UN currently estimates that the conflict-affected population in Darfur is over 3.6 million. The affected population in eastern Chad (220,000 refugees according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, and at least 100,000 Chadian civilians) may approach 400,000. In short, the lives of some 4 million human beings are at stake in the greater Darfur/eastern Chad humanitarian arena, and yet humanitarian access continues to diminish because of insecurity, operations remain suspended, humanitarian personnel are increasingly evacuated or withdrawn permanently---and funding shortfalls are starting to bite deeply into humanitarian capacity and supplies. Untenably expensive stop-gap transport measures that have been in place for months will in many cases end soon, with extraordinarily destructive consequences.
Despite the posturing words of President Bush on a significant NATO role for a Darfur mission, NATO officials in Europe speak only of a highly limited commitment. Where Bush spoke glibly of “a NATO stewardship, planning, facilitating, organizing, probably double the number of peacekeepers that are there now, in order to start bringing some sense of security" (New York Times, February 17, 2006), NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer yesterday,
“ruled out [ ] sending troops from the western military alliance to Sudan's strife-torn Darfur province. De Hoop Scheffer said he believed that NATO could help in the region during the transition phase from an African Union operation to one led by the UN but only with a clear UN mandate. ‘Then we can discuss a NATO role, which I do see in the enabling sphere and not the boots of troops on the ground,’ he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defence ministers in Innsbruck, Austria.” (Agence France Presse, March 6, 2006) [....]
The key word from both Brussels and Washington is “premature”---it is “premature” to plan in significant ways for a Darfur mission, or to make specific commitments of military, logistical, transport, and intelligence resources for any such mission. This convenient sense of the “premature” ensures that security for all humanitarian operations and all vulnerable civilians in Darfur will, for the foreseeable future, be provided exclusively by the African Union monitoring mission. To be sure, there has recently been a good deal of talk about a “transition” from an AU mission to a UN (“blue-hatted”) mission. But this would take many months to achieve; indeed, some within the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations have asserted such a mission could not be fully deployed until January 2007.
But even this “transition” to a UN force is increasingly doubtful. Khartoum---fully convinced that there is no stomach for humanitarian intervention by the militarily capable powers that Kofi Annan futilely and belatedly continues to call upon---has moved into a mode of full obstruction. [....]
One measure of Khartoum’s determination to forestall a move to a UN mission in Darfur is the reported threat by the National Islamic Front regime to withdraw from the AU in the event of such a move (Reuters, March 5, 2006 [citing a report from the highly reliable Sudan Tribune]). Even as Khartoum is issuing this threat, Egypt is lobbying hard in the international press, insisting that any UN mission in Darfur must have Khartoum’s approval, even as Egypt knows that such insistence only encourages Khartoum to say “no” to the UN: [....]
It is now painfully easy to survey the meaningless volubility of the international community on a “responsibility to protect” civilians in Darfur, thanks to an important new resource from the Coalition for International Justice: a 387-page “Chronology of Reporting on Events Concerning the Conflict in Darfur, Sudan” (February 2006). This massive assemblage of data, determinations, and statements offers countless examples not simply of Khartoum’s relentless mendacity and its campaign of deliberate misinformation, but also of ill-informed, disingenuous, and spineless declarations by Western leaders nominally engaged on Darfur. [....]
An excellent dispatch by Foreign Correspondent Dan Morrison of the San Francisco Chronicle (dateline: Nyala, South Darfur, March 5, 2006) offers a compelling overview of humanitarian prospects in Darfur:
“Soon the Otash [displaced persons camp] warehouses---and dozens like them across Darfur---will be empty, leaving as many as 2.8 million people at risk of malnutrition and disease, officials say. ‘We have food up to the middle of March. After that, the pipeline is dry,’ said Carlos Veloso, the UN World Food Program's emergency coordinator for Darfur. ‘I cannot feed people with good intentions.’” [....]
“Humanitarian officials and foreign diplomats in Sudan say they fear that reduced budgets and growing insecurity will force them to concentrate their efforts on Darfur's 2 million camp residents while cutting food deliveries and other aid to more than 1 million people who still live in rural areas. That could provoke further migration to Darfur's swollen refugee camps---desettlement instead of resettlement.”
The dispatch concludes with a grim retrospective moment:
“In the spring of 2004, as the assaults on Darfur's non-Arab population reached their height, ‘donor countries saw camps as the best way to protect the civilian population,’ [UNICEF coordinator] Veitch said. ‘They cannot walk away from the table now.’”
But just as Western countries and other international actors have “walked away” from previously uttered commitments, so it is clear that humanitarian assistance is in the gruesome process of contracting significantly throughout Darfur. [....]
In Chad the consequences of violent insecurity are having devastating effects on the civilian populations. Tens of thousands of Chadians have been forced to flee the Khartoum-backed Janjaweed onslaught in the eastern border region of this desperately poor country. The UN Sudan Situation Report of March 2, 2006 reports that “some 10,000 Chadian refugees, predominantly women and children, are now congregated near Gelu (north of el-Geneina on the Chadian border).” This is only one location.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reports today from the Chad/Darfur border on the ongoing civilian slaughter (this is his sixth trip to the region):
“What is happening here [along the Chad/Darfur border] is more like what happens in a stockyard. Militias backed by Sudan race on camels and pickup trucks into Chadian villages and use machine guns to mow down farming families, whose only offense is that they belong to the wrong tribes and have black skin. I found it eerie to drive on the dirt track along the border because countless villages have been torched or abandoned. Many tens of thousands of peasants have fled their villages, and you can drive for mile after mile and see no sign of life---except for the smoke of the villages or fields being burned by the Sudan-armed janjaweed militia.”
Inevitably, there are humanitarian consequences to the violence that Khartoum has deliberately loosed and supported in Chad (there is indisputable evidence that Khartoum’s regular military forces, including helicopter gunships, have deployed in support of Janjaweed attacks in Darfur; see by Human Rights Watch “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” February 2006,
Kristof reports:
“These areas are too insecure for the United Nations and most international aid workers, who are already doing a heroic and dangerous job in Darfur and Chad. So Mr. Ali and others left behind get no food aid and go hungry.”
The number of civilians beyond humanitarian reach is growing extremely rapidly in Chad, with little chance that humanitarian operations can increase rapidly enough before the rainy season. Transport from the west (Abeche) is extremely difficult in the best of times, and virtually impossible when the rains come. Human mortality will be staggering during this rapidly approaching period, which largely coincides with the traditional “hunger gap” between spring planting and fall harvest.
The same atrocities that have been reported from Darfur for the past three years, and longer, are now being authoritatively reported by human rights groups, the UN High Commission for Refugees, and the intrepid Kristof: [....]
Such atrocities, and the ongoing genocidal destruction within Darfur, provide the appropriate context in which to consider the implications of Khartoum’s demand, reported yesterday by Reuters, that one of only two operational international humanitarian organizations in Eastern Sudan end its life-saving efforts (in Eastern Sudan, the next Sudanese insurgency is on the verge of exploding, with Khartoum’s military forces poised to inflict massive destruction on civilians near the main transport corridors and the critical oil export pipeline): [....]
Khartoum’s actions in southern Sudan, the Nuba, and now Eastern Sudan gives us our best understanding of the current war of attrition against humanitarian assistance in Darfur. But though such understanding is readily attainable, it remains nonetheless inconsequential for those who have the power to protect the integrity of humanitarian operations and the safety of humanitarian workers. In turn, the vast civilian population in need of humanitarian assistance (again, in the range of 4 million for Darfur and eastern Chad) faces the prospect of steadily diminishing aid.
Let us be fully clear about what this failure to act means. Hundreds of thousands of Darfuris will eventually die because of actions not taken now. The will die from violence, from disease, and from relentlessly increasing malnutrition. Their deaths will include what epidemiologists refer to as “deferred mortality,” the deaths that have their ultimate etiology in conflict and prior deprivation but which may take years to occur. Most of those who die in the next year are likely to be the most vulnerable of the vulnerable: children under five years of age. But women, older children, and the elderly will also be disproportionately represented in the vast unrecorded ranks of names.
There can be no doubting the implications of the OCHA report, its grim assessment, suggesting---if not actually estimating---that human mortality will increase in ways that may well make genocide in Darfur more destructive of human life than the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Over 400,000 people have already died, and the dying continues. And still the readily predictable acceleration of mortality rates throughout Darfur doesn’t matter enough.
Most bluntly, the lives of people in Darfur don’t matter enough: these human beings have been judged insufficiently valuable, unworthy of the resources required to provide them with adequate humanitarian relief and protection.
This is the real meaning of the world’s recently embraced doctrine of a “responsibility to protect.”

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063