Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 7 April 2008

Humanitarian conditions in Darfur, two months before the rainy season


Darfur’s rainy season largely coincides with the traditional
“hunger gap” between spring planting and fall harvest; so the
loss of transport capacity, rebel violence along the Chad/Darfur border,
humanitarian obstruction by Khartoum, pervasive insecurity throughout
Darfur, and the failure of effective UNAMID deployment may make this
rainy season the “perfect storm” of human destruction

By Eric Reeves

April 5, 2008 — This overview attempts to bring together the most substantial data and
reports about the nature and scale of the current humanitarian crisis in
Darfur, and to put this information within the context of the immensely
threatening environment facing aid workers throughout the region. It
draws on a range of materials, including the most recent UN Darfur
Humanitarian Profile (No. 30, reflecting conditions as of January 1,
2008). The sources for data, surveys, and anecdotal information are
diverse, both on the ground in Darfur and within the international
humanitarian community. Much information was provided exclusively on a
confidential basis; non-confidential information comes chiefly from
reports in the public domain, or public interviews by humanitarian

It must be emphasized that there is a highly significant gap in the
humanitarian data available concerning the scale of malnutrition in
Darfur. Critical data for Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) and other
malnutrition indicators (e.g., Mid-upper Arm Circumference [MUAC]) are
simply not available, even on a confidential basis. Although some
individual humanitarian workers and organizations were willing to
provide anecdotal information, on a highly confidential basis, this is
clearly inadequate. The reason consistently given for this extraordinary
lacuna in humanitarian indicators was the refusal of Khartoum’s
“Humanitarian Aid Commission” (HAC) to permit either the
gathering or dissemination of data bearing on malnutrition. This highly
consequential decision, made by a bureaucratic extension of the very
regime that has done so much to engineer the humanitarian crisis in
Darfur, deserves much greater highlighting.

At present, as Darfur’s 4.3 million conflict-affected people head
into the rainy season/hunger gap---many weakened by long years in
camps---we have almost no statistical understanding of their nutritional
status. What we do know is that the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) is
falling further behind every day in meeting the necessary benchmarks in
transporting and pre-positioning food in anticipation of the rainy
season. The current shortfall in food actually in transit to Darfur is
approximately 50% according to WFP (see below).

Of course any assessment of humanitarian work and the organizational
dissemination of data must have as context the security crisis
constraining the delivery of aid in Darfur, a crisis that only deepens.
Insecurity is the primary reason for the massive reduction in WFP
transport capacity. The pervasive threat of violence persists despite a
July 2007 UN Security Council resolution authorizing a large military
and civilian police force to protect both civilians and humanitarians.
Khartoum’s deliberate and consequential obstruction of this force has
been well documented (see my two-part analysis at
http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article199.html), and shows no signs of
abating. Similarly, humanitarian work in Darfur must be understood in
the context of Khartoum’s widely reported obstruction, harassment,
intimidation, and threatening of aid workers (see below). Funding
shortfalls for humanitarian operations, particularly transport, also
pose a grave threat to the life-sustaining work of this extraordinarily
courageous cohort of individuals.


Despite the urgency of Darfur’s situation, the humanitarian crisis in
Eastern Chad must not be overlooked or turned into a “side show.”
Here violence, displacement, and dramatic impoverishment reflect in many
ways the consequences of Khartoum’s military actions in Darfur---and
reflect also the regime’s material support to and sanctuary for
Chadian rebel groups, groups that at present are unified more by
expediency than any desire to serve this impoverished nation’s
national interest. Some 500,000 Darfuri refugees, Chadian Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs), and refugees from Central African Republic are
living in increasingly difficult and dangerous circumstances.

The proxy war between Khartoum and N’Djamena continues, despite the
recent signing of a sixth “peace” agreement. Indeed, recent
communication intercepts by France and the US reveal that Khartoum’s
intelligence service is inciting the Chadian rebels, long based in
Darfur, to resume their assault on the Déby regime. Very recent reports
of cross-border violence in the Adé area come from several sources, and
indicate significant civilians casualties (see
http://allafrica.com/stories/200804030969.html). The early
February 2008 assault on N’Djamena by Khartoum-backed Chadian rebels
was enormously disruptive, even destructive of humanitarian efforts and
resources. The arid land on which refugees and displaced persons are
presently housed in Eastern Chad cannot possibly provide adequate water
for this vast population, and security issues will not be easily
resolved by the currently deploying European Union force (EUFOR; see


The humanitarian crisis, both in Darfur and Eastern Chad, exists within
the context of an ongoing, genocidal counter-insurgency war against
Darfuri rebels, conducted by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime
and its Arab militia allies, the Janjaweed. To be sure, violence in
Darfur has become extremely chaotic, and those responsible include some
rebel groups, bandits, and other opportunistic armed groups. But this
violence derives from the previous large-scale military campaigns
against African populations by Khartoum and the Janjaweed, primarily but
far from exclusively in 2003-2004.

Certainly Khartoum’s larger determination to resolve its “Darfur
problem” by means of violence, including the present chaotic violence
the regime has done so much to orchestrate, remains unchanged. The most
substantial evidence is the brutal campaign against civilians north of
el-Geneina (capital of West Darfur) in January and February 2008. A
recent report on this campaign comes from the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights (March 20, 2008,
www.ohchr.org/Documents/Press/WestDarfurreport2003.pdf), and
details many specific findings:

“[An] investigation [was] conducted by UNAMID Human Rights into the
January and February [2008] attacks on the villages of Saraf Jidad,
Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj in West Darfur. The attacks were carried out
in the context of a major military campaign which the Sudanese
government launched in January 2008 in an attempt to regain control of
the northern corridor of West Darfur and drive out the Justice and
Equality Movement, a non-signatory insurgent group, from the area. The
investigation revealed that violations of international humanitarian and
human rights law against the civilian populations of Saraf Jidad, Sirba,
Silea and Abu Suruj, were perpetrated by armed militias and Sudanese
Armed Forces (SAF) during those attacks. [ ]

“Military attacks in Sirba, Silea and Abu Suruj (8 February),
involved aerial bombardments by helicopter gunships and fixed-wing
aircraft, accompanied by ground offensives by militia and SAF.
Consistent information gathered by UNAMID Human Rights Officers
indicated that these actions violated the principle of distinction
stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between
civilian objects and military objectives. Moreover, the scale of
destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for
the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a
deliberate and integral part of a military strategy. Information on
extensive pillaging during and after the attacks was also gathered. In
addition, consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed
uniformed men during and after the attack in Sirba were collected.”
(from the Executive Summary)

Here we might juxtapose some of the language from the UN human rights
report and a key clause from the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

“the scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects
indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that
the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy”

“[Among the acts of genocide recognized by this Convention:]
deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to
bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”

The UN human rights report also finds that, “Civilian homes,
nongovernmental humanitarian organizations’ clinics and offices,
community centers, water structures, schools, food storages, milling
machines and shops were systematically pillaged, vandalized and/or set

Detailed accounts of the killings in Saraf Jidad, Sirba, Abu Suruj, and
Silea make clear that within the villages victims were primarily women,
children, the elderly, and the infirm. Many were burned to death in
their own homes. The report’s accounts are based primarily on
evidence provided by eyewitnesses.

UN investigators were also “denied [ ] access to Jebel Moon [to the
northeast] until 1 March 2008, in breach of its obligation to allow
UNAMID officials freedom of movement under the Status of Forces
Agreement signed between the UN and the Sudanese Government in February
2008.” The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is the linchpin to
effective deployment of the UN-authorized protection force in Darfur.
Khartoum delayed signing the SOFA for five months (the deadline
stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1769 was August 31, 2007);
the regime’s failure to abide by the terms of this agreement, less
than a month after signing it, suggests how little meaning this key
document will have going forward, and how difficult deployment of UNAMID
forces will continue to be.

At the same time, militarily capable nations around the world have
failed to provide key resources for UNAMID, most conspicuously transport
and tactical helicopters and ground transport capacity. For its part,
the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations refuses to review its
equipment standards for deployment, thus freezing deployment of a
battle-ready battalion from Senegal, for example, which will not receive
the UN-required number of armored personnel carriers from South Africa
for another five months.

[SOUTH SUDAN: Military tensions, orchestrated by the Khartoum regime,
continue to rise in the Abyei region along the north/south border. The
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (January 2005) between Khartoum and the
south stipulated that the boundaries of oil-rich Abyei be established by
an independent Abyei Boundary Commission, comprising a number of Sudan
experts accepted by both sides. The Commission report was presented to
National Islamic Front President Omar al-Bashir in July 2005, and has
since been entirely disregarded by al-Bashir and his regime. As a
consequence, there is no accepted civil administration for Abyei,
violent clashes have increased, and a reported 200 of Khartoum’s
regular troops recently entered the Abyei area. Khartoum has also
substantially armed some elements of the Misseriya Arabs of the area,
and attempted to stoke ethnic tensions between Arab and Ngok Dinka
populations of the region. In short, an explosive situation has been
deliberately created over a period of months, with no sign that Khartoum
intends to defuse what may be the crisis precipitating renewed
north/south war.]

At the same time, there is no evidence that a Darfur peace process
exists in any meaningful form. The UN’s Jan Eliasson and the AU’s
Salim Salim have been without the resources, the commitment, or the
diplomatic support from Western democracies and the AU that might have
made progress possible. There are no encouraging political signs,
including from within Sudan (see recent overview by Edmund Sanders of
the Los Angeles Times,
There is neither a diplomatic roadmap, a clear strategy for including
Darfuri civil society in the peace talks, nor any sign of a willingness
to confront Khartoum with the pressures necessary to ensure good faith
peace talks. Nor are regional actors proving willing to help the
process. Indeed, recent and highly reliable intelligence indicates that
Egyptian pilots are operating helicopter gunships in Darfur, an
extraordinary and highly inflammatory action, particularly since
Egyptian troops, along with Ethiopian forces, are scheduled to rotate
next into Darfur as part of UNAMID.

Unreasonable demands and continuing fractiousness on the part of the
rebel groups guarantee that no peace process will emerge in the near
term. Absent substantial and fully committed diplomatic resources,
clear and unified leadership, and a forceful political posture, a Darfur
peace process under present circumstances can only reprise the ghastly
failure of the “Darfur Peace Agreement” of May 2006 (Abuja,

In the shorter term, this makes all the more important the deployment
of 26,000 civilian police and military personnel authorized for
deployment by UN Security Council Resolution 1769. Although we hear
constantly the circular refrain that “peacekeeping in Darfur can’t
work because there is no peace for the peacekeeping force to keep,”
this has become a dangerous truism, obscuring what has long been
evident: the UN/African Union “hybrid” force deploying has as its
primary task civilian and humanitarian protection, not peacekeeping in
the traditional sense. For while there is no “peace to keep,” and
no prospect of such peace, this cannot be justification for denying
innocent civilians and courageous humanitarians as much protection as
possible. Nor is it acceptable to allow the present glacial pace of
deployment to be determined by Khartoum’s obstructionism and its
refusal to allow non-African units to deploy as scheduled by the UN
Department of Peacekeeping Operations (the regime’s rejection of an
engineering battalion from Norway and Sweden, and its ongoing delay of
special forces from Nepal, as well as a battalion from Thailand, are the
most consequential actions delaying UNAMID deployment). The putative
doctrine of a “responsibility to protect,” celebrated with much
fanfare on adoption at the UN but so far meaningless for the people of
Darfur, is on critical trial and seems to be succumbing to obdurate
defiance on Khartoum’s part.

Given the Chapter 7 auspices of the UNAMID force, protection of
civilians and humanitarians is certainly possible, even if it cannot be
comprehensive. Specific security needs are clear and achievable,
especially in protecting the delivery of food (including the
pre-positioning of food before the rainy season makes transport
difficult, if not impossible). Restoring adequate security in many of
the camps should also be of the highest priority: humanitarians are
increasingly at risk in many camp settings, even as they have lost
access to huge swaths of rural Darfur. (A more detailed account of the
insecurity threatening humanitarians and humanitarian operations,
including threats and intimidation by Khartoum’s intelligence and
other forces, appears below.)


The most recent data provided by various UN humanitarian offices
indicate a number of alarming dimensions to the Darfur crisis. Much of
what has been reported reflects conditions as of January 1, 2008---more
than three months ago. Two particularly important surveys are [1] Darfur
Humanitarian Profile No. 30 [DHP 30], reflecting conditions as of
January 1, 2008, and [2] “Food Security and Nutrition Assessment of
the Conflict-Affected Population in Darfur” [FSNAD], reflecting
conditions in August/September 2007, seven months ago. But telling
information also comes from the ground in Darfur in unfiltered form.


*4.27 million people in Darfur are conflict-affected, out of a pre-war
population of 6.0 - 6.5 million [DHP 30];

*2.45 million people are internally displaced (the vast majority of
those who have been displaced now live in camps, and most were displaced
toward the beginning of major conflict in 2003) [DHP 30] [FSNAD];

*400,000 people have been displaced over the past 14 months, including
100,000 this year (approximately 1,000 per day); attacks by forces of
the Khartoum regime and its Janjaweed militia allies account for
approximately two-thirds of this new displacement [current UN data;
public statement by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, April 4, 2008];

*approximately 250,000 Darfuris are refugees in Eastern Chad [UNHCR
assessment March 2008];

*given large additional civilian displacement, many camps for displaced
persons can no longer accept new arrivals [current assessment by UN and
international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations];

*the gains in addressing malnutrition since the advent of major
humanitarian efforts in 2004 have been largely lost [DHP 30];

*Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) late last year surpassed the emergency
threshold (15% of the population) in a number of camps [DHP 30];

*Global Acute Malnutrition among all children under 5 years was 16.1%
as of September 2007 [FSNAD];

*Global Acute Malnutrition among children 6 - 29 months was 21.3% as of
September 2007 [FSNAD];

*“Middle Upper-arm Circumference [MUAC] surveys following
[Khartoum’s] removal of the blockage of the corridor north of
el-Geneina found up to one-third of the under-five population acutely
malnourished” (UN assessment, April 1, 2008);

*200,000 people could not be reached for food assistance in October
2007 [DHP 30];

*according to the UN World Food Program, 83,000 metric tons of food
should be pre-positioned in anticipation of the rains; current stocks
are 60,000 metric tons---to maintain food levels, 40,000 metric tons of
food should be in transit at any given moment; currently, only about
20,000 metric tons are in transit to Darfur; [current WFP assessment]

*“The prices for cereals in the markets are exploding upwards,
increasing by five-fold in some areas.” (April 5, 2008 email
communication to this writer from humanitarian aid worker in Darfur);

*“The pre-harvest studies for Darfur suggest a hunger gap of 70-78%
for a number of populations; there will be a serious risk of localized
famine and the WFP is under-funded and seriously pressuring
nongovernmental organizations to lower distribution amounts” (April 2,
2008 email communication to this writer from source on the ground in

*“Food security remains the major humanitarian problem, with only 30%
of the conflicted-affected people considered food self-sufficient”
[DHP 30]---in other words, over 3 million people are in need of food

*according to Save the Children/USA, “about 650,000 or half of all
children in Darfur do not received an education, despite efforts by
various organizations to provide schooling in camps and towns across the
western Sudanese region” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
[dateline: Nairobi], February 28, 2008)


Key sources of data and information about the humanitarian crisis in
Eastern Chad are the UN High Commission for Refugee’s (UNHCR)
“Situation Report as of 20 March 2008” [Chad Sit Rep] and a
widely reported interview by Kingsley Amaning, UN humanitarian
coordinator in Chad (March 2008):

*Eastern Chad “now hosts a total of 250,000 refugees from Darfur,
57,000 from Central African Republic, and 180,000 internally displaced
Chadians. In addition, between 700,000 and 800,000 resident of eastern
Chad ‘have been reeling from incursions by Chadian rebels which have
made their communities very vulnerable.’” (Interview with Amaning,
Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], March 12, 2008);

*“[Amaning] said 250,000 Sudanese refugees were crammed into camps in
Chad in areas that normally sustains 20,000 people, putting pressure on
water and other essential services.” (Interview with Amaning, Reuters
[dateline: UN/New York], March 13, 2008);

*The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 13,000
refugees fled from Khartoum’s January/February 2008 military offensive
in West Darfur; many refugees ended up in the highly insecure Birak area
and could not be properly accessed by aid organization (press release,
UNHCR, March 14, 2008);

*UNHCR reported in the same March 14 press release: “[Darfuri]
refugees interviewed this week said they had buried bags of grain in
their villages in West Darfur before fleeing. Some had returned to their
villages to find that their supplies had been discovered and destroyed
by the Janjaweed militia, leaving them with nothing and forcing them to
return to Chad.”

[A brief comment on EUFOR: This European Union force of approximately
3,700 personnel is meant to provide security for Eastern Chad and
northeastern Central Africa Republic, as well as to support the UN
Mission for the Central African Republic and Chad (MINCURCAT), which
will consist of 350 police and military liaison personnel. The mandates
of the two are essentially the same: MINCURCAT is to protect
“refugees, displaced persons, and civilians in danger, by
facilitating the provision of humanitarian assistance in eastern Chad
and north-eastern Central African Republic and by creating favourable
conditions for the reconstruction and economic and social development of
those areas”; EUFOR is to take “all necessary measures within its
capabilities and its area of operation in eastern Chad and the
north-eastern Central African Republic to protect civilians, facilitate
delivery of humanitarian aid, and ensure the safety of UN personnel.”

The best and most detailed assessment of the relation between Chad and
Darfur comes from Jerome Tubiana, “Echo Effects: Chadian Instability
and the Darfur Conflict” (Sudan Issue Brief, from Small Arms Survey
[Number 9, February 2008], at
As Tubiana points out, it will be difficult for EUFOR to distinguish
itself from the previous French military presence in Chad (Opération
Epervier, on the ground since 1986). France is presently contributing
the bulk of troops and military equipment to EUFOR. Moreover, the
assessment of EUFOR from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is
highly critical, suggesting that the force is only approximately one
quarter the size it should be, given its mandate and the areas for which
it responsible. Although EUFOR deployment has finally begun---it was
originally slated to deploy in October/November 2007, following the
rainy season in Eastern Chad---there is no clear evidence that it will
be adequate in size or perceived by the Chadian rebels as suitably


For obvious reasons, neither UN nor nongovernmental organizations will
speak fully openly about the conditions in which aid workers struggle
with their highly challenging tasks. There is some criticism leveled
against Khartoum’s relentless obstruction, harassment, and
intimidation of humanitarian workers and operations; but rarely do we
hear assessments that do not reflect a fear of Khartoum’s willingness
to single out organizations and individuals for especially harsh
treatment, including incarceration and expulsion.

The severity of response can be gauged from the arrest of two senior
officials of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without
Border/Medecins Sans Frontieres in May 2005, this because the
organization dared to publish a report about the pervasive phenomenon of
rape in Darfur. For emphasis, the regime’s security forces also
arrested the translator for Kofi Annan following the then-UN
Secretary-General’s interviews with rape victims in Darfur. We may
also see Khartoum’s willingness to deal harshly with humanitarian
organizations in the response of security forces to a gathering of UN,
nongovernmental, and African Union forces in Nyala, in January 2007:

“Aid workers have described how they watched helplessly as Sudanese
police officers dragged a female United Nations worker from an aid
agency compound in Darfur and subjected her to a vicious sexual attack.
Staff say they feared for their lives when armed police raided their
compound in Nyala, dragging one European woman out into the street by
her hair and savagely beating several other international staff before
arresting a total of 20 UN, aid agency, and African Union staff.” [ ]

“A UN official in Darfur said: ‘If the people responsible for
beating and molesting the aid workers and UN staff are not punished,
others will think they can get away with such crimes and it will happen
again. Should the security situation for international aid workers not
improve and the overall safety of our staff be assured, we will be
forced to withdraw from Darfur.’” (The Telegraph [UK] [dateline:
Darfur], January 28, 2007)

Such actions are consistent with Khartoum’s assessment of the
humanitarian crisis in Darfur, a crisis relentlessly denied by the

“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday painted a rosy picture
of the humanitarian situation in Darfur saying that Darfur displaced
have started voluntarily to regain their villages. Addressing the
opening session of Arab summit in the Syrian capital al-Bashir said more
that 350,000 Internally Displaced Persons have returned to their
villages. He pointed out that the Sudanese government is now working to
enforce the reconstruction programme and the return of displaced
persons. He further said that the government has enlarged the circle of
basic services and development projects in stable areas that include
most of Darfur region.” (Sudan Tribune, March 29, 2008)

Even the Organization of the Islamic Conference has recently called on
the Arab League to do much more about the catastrophe in Darfur. But in
Damascus and other Arab countries, al-Bashir feels free to lie
shamelessly about conditions in the west of Sudan.

Moreover, the hostility of Khartoum to the efforts and motives of
humanitarian aid workers has been unrelenting from the very beginning of
operations. In their April 1, 2008 editions, both Al-Rai Al-’Aam and
Al-Sudani (prominent Khartoum-based newspapers) report that Saleh
Abdalla ‘Gosh,’

“head of Sudan’s national security apparatus, has accused foreign
elements and aid NGOs of interfering in Sudan’s state security. He said
that diplomats are using agents to try to collect information on the
country’s internal situation, and are also trying to affect its
legislative processes. He added that foreign aid organizations in Darfur
are faking evidence of mass graves and fabricating Darfur residents’
stories of rape.” (translation by Middle East Media Research
Institute, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/6562.htm)

Even more ominously, al-Sudani reports on Mach 26, 2008:

“The Sudanese government has decided to launch an investigation
against the American humanitarian organization International Rescue
Committee, operating in Darfur. A government source said that an
organization official had acknowledged the organization’s ties to an
international Jewish organization, to which it conveys information on
the situation in Darfur, and also ties to armed organizations in several
Darfur refugee camps.” (translation by Middle East Media Research
Institute, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/6446.htm)

This ludicrous mendacity is a deadly serious warning to the
International Rescue Committee, one of the largest and most
distinguished humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur and Eastern
Chad. And a humanitarian source in Darfur reports that there has been a
sharp uptick in Khartoum’s threatening requests for the identity of
those contributing to individual humanitarian organizations. Such
intimidation has a longer history and is often accompanied by the most
intense hostility:

“In October [2004], Sudanese President Omar el-Beshir launched an
attack on aid agencies in the region, calling them enemies.
‘Organizations operating in Darfur are the real enemies,’ the
president [said]. And earlier in May [2004], Sudanese Interior Minister
Abdul Rahim Hussein accused a number of aid organizations of supporting
ethnic minority rebels in the region, [claiming] that they ‘used
humanitarian operations as a cover for carrying out a hidden agenda and
proved to have supported the rebellion in the past period.’” (Agence
France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], March 20, 2005)

Reports from humanitarian workers on the ground, as well as various
senior UN officials, continue to bear out the seriousness of threats to
personnel and operations. The following observations have all come to
this writer from the ground in Darfur within the last month, though with
insistence upon complete confidentiality (lightly edited for clarity):

[1] “[Khartoum’s] Humanitarian Aid Commission [HAC] and national
security are becoming worse and worse in their harassment and

[2] “Humanitarian nongovernmental organizations live in constant
threat of arrest or attack without repercussions…. The humanitarian
community is extremely beaten. People are tired and fed up, being
drowned every day by all the authorities shouting at you, threatening
you, obstructing you, accusing you.”

[3] “Even with the right [travel] documents, people cannot get
access to areas in need [of assistance], either by road or air, because
of HAC and national security.”

[4] “Humanitarian morale is low because of the constant failure of
the UN to support them. The Joint Communiqué [supposedly enabling
nongovernmental humanitarian organizations to work without impediment]
is a joke; and a number of UN staff are simply not pushing hard enough
for humanitarian work to be possible.”

[5] “There is a humanitarian culture of appeasement at all costs.
Aid organizations wish to stay at what seem all costs, so the level of
staff harassment accepted, and the security compromises made, are in
excess of what might be found in other humanitarian aid contexts.”

The severity of the insecurity faced by humanitarians is partially
captured in a report by the Headington Institute: “NGO Staff Wellbeing
in the Darfur Region of Sudan & Eastern Chad: Assessment Report for
Interaction,” November 2007:

“According to UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, attacks against aid workers increased by 150 percent between
June 2006 and June 2007. Between January and October 2007, violence
against aid workers in the Darfur region resulted in at least---

*98 humanitarian vehicles being hijacked or attempted to be
*61 humanitarian convoys attacked, ambushed and/or looted;
*15 humanitarian personnel injured;
*50 humanitarian personnel arrested and/or detained;
*118 humanitarian personnel kidnapped;
*66 humanitarian personnel physically and/or sexually assaulted;
*12 humanitarian personnel killed.”

More recently, Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 30 (conditions as of
January 1, 2008) reports follow-up data: “Between October and December
2007, eight humanitarian workers were killed and ten wounded, while
three others were physically attacked. During the same period, armed
men assaulted 23 humanitarian centres/compounds.”


The nearly complete deterioration of security on the ground has
compelled humanitarians to fly rather than drive to most areas in need
of assistance. Not only is this extremely expensive compared with
ground transport, it is not nearly as effective. Darfur Humanitarian
Profile No. 30 [DHP 30] reports that,

“Through an increased use of air transport and locally recruited
volunteers and community workers, humanitarians have been able to
maintain access to the conflict-affected populations, but the quality of
the operations has suffered significantly.”

Here it is appropriate to bear in mind that nongovernmental
humanitarian organizations, the implementing partners for the major UN
organizations, report that they have access to only approximately 40% of
the conflict-affected population. One major humanitarian organization
puts the figure significantly below 40% for its own operations. Before
and during the brutal assault on the civilian corridor north of
el-Geneina in West Darfur, Khartoum imposed a complete blockade on
humanitarian assistance, denying 160,000 people all aid access.

As noted above, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP), 83,000
metric tons of food should be pre-positioned in anticipation of the
rains; current stocks are 60,000 metric tons. To maintain food levels,
40,000 metric tons of food should be in transit at any given moment;
currently, only about 20,000 metric tons are in transit to Darfur. The
transport of food has been sharply reduced by untenable security
conditions along major and secondary road corridors. In a March 25,
2008 press release, WFP reported:

“The incident in Darfur [in which yet another WFP driver was killed]
brings to 56 the number of trucks involved in hijackings this year; 36
trucks remain missing and 24 drivers are unaccounted for. A further six
WFP passenger vehicles have been stolen in Darfur this year. In October
2007, three WFP-contracted drivers were killed while transporting food
to Darfur.”

These numbers have grown significantly even in the two weeks since this
press release, and there is a grave threat that many more drivers will
simply refuse to take on the excessively dangerous task of transporting

Blunt assessments of the implications for food availability, and
ultimately nutrition, are already being offered by humanitarian
organizations. One large organization recently had to ask for
UNAMID/civilian police assistance for a food distribution because the
host community had threatened to prevent displaced persons from
receiving food, since the host community was not also receiving food.
The humanitarian coordinator reflected, “I think this sort of tension
will become routine as food rations decrease” (email received April 2,
2008). Another humanitarian worker in a different part of Darfur speaks
of “many locations where tensions between populations are fraught as a
result of competition for services and access to water” (email
received March 14, 2008).

Certainly the number of people in need of food assistance will soon go
up dramatically, according to WFP Darfur Coordinator Corinne Fleisher:

“‘At the moment we’re feeding 2 million people in Darfur,’
[Fleisher] said. ‘This will go up during the hunger season up to 3.2
- 3.3 million and because during hunger season we also feed a bigger
number of people in the villages.’”

In fact, there is growing skepticism within the aid community about
whether the UN’s WFP can either move adequate amounts of food,
especially to West Darfur and more remote locations in North and South
Darfur, or find adequate funding. Some believe that WFP’s March 2008
request for $500 million will not come close to being reached,
especially factoring in the enormous costs of air transport. Despite a
one-month reprieve that came from a $500,000. contribution by Hollywood
celebrities, nongovernmental organizations are faced with what they see
as a grim future:

“14 international aid agencies today [March 28, 2008] warned that
vital assistance to millions of people across Sudan will soon be put in
jeopardy unless there is renewed commitment to provide long-term funding
for humanitarian flights in the country. [ ] In Darfur alone, the 14
agencies together assist over
2 million people in areas currently only reachable by air, as roads are
too insecure---yet the air service is struggling for long-term funds.
Hundreds of thousands more people in other parts of Sudan trying to
recover from years of war, including the south of the country and
disputed areas such as Abyei, are also only accessible by air.” [ ]

“The World Food Programme, which runs the United Nations Humanitarian
Air Service [UNHAS], recently warned the flights could close within
weeks due to a lack of funds. Donors have now pledged enough to maintain
the service during April---but nothing further is yet confirmed and its
future is still uncertain. The agencies called on the international
community to follow up and provide further funding as soon as
possible.” [ ]

“In Darfur, the ongoing conflict has left over 4 million people in
need of assistance yet aid agencies are finding it more difficult than
ever to reach them, due to almost daily hijackings of vehicles
delivering humanitarian aid and targeted attacks on aid workers. The
UNHAS flights are the only safe way for aid workers to reach many
areas---particularly those outside the major towns, in areas where the
humanitarian needs are often greatest. When fighting in West Darfur last
month forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes
empty-handed, the UNHAS flights were the only way most aid agencies
could reach the area.”

“Oxfam said over half of the 400,000 people it assists across Darfur
can only be accessed by air because the roads are too unsafe. CARE
warned that delivery of food and other vital assistance to 300,000
people in South and West Darfur is reliant on air transport. ‘There is
no doubt that if these flights were forced to end or scale down, given
the ongoing violence we could not continue to operate much of our work
in Darfur,’ warned Oxfam.” (Open letter from 14 aid agencies
operating in Sudan, March 28, 2008,

Oxfam is one of the humanitarian organizations most responsible for
water and sanitation, both in Darfur and Eastern Chad, and it is
important to remember that the diseases that will be the major sources
of mortality in coming months are a function of both malnutrition and a
lack of potable water. As insecurity prevents delivery of adequate food
and clean water resources, and increasingly primary medical care, the
people of Darfur will be at acute risk for any number of diseases that
become more prevalent in the rainy season, including cholera, dysentery,
and malaria. Other diseases can also pose grave risks to the population,
especially children. In an example that directly relates to prevailing
insecurity, whooping cough was reported in West Darfur in early February

“A dramatic rise in whooping cough cases has been reported near El
Geneina, capital of the Sudanese state of West Darfur, but insecurity
has made it difficult for medical personnel to reach the affected
populations, according to an international NGO. Two cases of the disease
(also known as pertussis) were reported in Kondobe, a remote village 20
kilometers north of El Geneina, a fortnight ago, according to the NGO,
Medair. But by last week, the number had risen to 147 while another 11
cases were reported in Bir Dagaig village, 10 kilometers further north.
‘Whooping cough is a particularly dangerous disease,’ David Sauter,
Medair’s operations manager, said in a statement. ‘It is an
important cause of infant death around the world.’” (UN Integrated
Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], February 5, 2008)


There are many factors bearing on the lives of those internally
displaced persons living in the camps, including a dramatic upsurge in
camp violence, a proliferation of weapons, loss of authority among
traditional leaders, and infiltration of the camps by military
personnel, including Janjaweed and rebel elements.

Newly displaced persons often find that there is no capacity in camps
they seek out. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
reports from the Zalingei area of West Darfur:

“Families fleeing into the camps to find safety and get access to
assistance [ ] no longer receive anything from the humanitarian
organizations, and for several months, it is the displaced population
themselves who have been sharing their food and shelter with [the newly
arriving families].” (MSF press release, February 29, 2008)

Yet because of disastrous harvests this past fall in both North and
South Darfur (together representing three-quarters of Darfur’s
population), there has been more and more movement by civilians seeking
food and water in camps. Many camps simply cannot absorb any more
people. At the same time there are continuing efforts by Khartoum to
force displaced persons back to their villages of origin, even if there
is nothing with which to resume productive agricultural life and no
security from marauding Janjaweed and bandits. The food crisis has also
reached the camps, and the UN has very recently warned that nutritional
indicators in some camps are now above emergency thresholds (though this
warning comes as a generalization without Global Acute Malnutrition
rates, a sign that Khartoum continues to obstruct the promulgation of
critical data). And even though women and children make up over 60% of
camp populations, more than half of Darfuri children are receiving no
education. The obvious implication is that for hundreds of thousands of
children in the camps, there is no meaningful activity or occupation.
And as sexual violence against women and girls continues, as life
without meaning stretches into years, as guns increasingly become the
source of authority, young men in the camps seem to be in a setting
designed to create future soldiers for rebel causes or simply
opportunistic banditry.

Many of the camps, especially those near major towns such as el-Fasher,
Nyala, and el-Geneina, are increasingly taking on the look of
permanence: they are poised to become the equivalent of squalid
“suburbs” to these and other towns, but with opportunities for
employment extremely limited, and the chances for a renewed agricultural
economy in Darfur diminishing by the month. Humanitarians increasingly
report that people in the camps---some there for more than four
years---are no longer living but merely surviving. Whatever hope
existed even two years ago that security might be provided by the world
community has been almost completely extinguished.

UNAMID forces have brought modest increases in security to some areas
of Darfur; but the risk is great that it will be perceived as
ineffectual as its African Union predecessor. If UNAMID cannot
establish order within the camps, especially through the deployment of
Formed Police Units, violence and chaos will only grow. And yet to
date, only a single Formed Police Unit (from Bangladesh) has deployed to
Darfur. Large camps such as Kalma and Otash near Nyala (South Darfur)
are among the most explosive, and have already been the site of forced
relocation of civilians by Khartoum’s security forces (October 2007).
This was a clear violation of international humanitarian law, but met
with no resistance or effective condemnation. None of this is lost on
the displaced people of Darfur.


Relentlessly, terrifyingly, Darfur moves closer to the precipice.
Humanitarian efforts that have proved extraordinarily, almost incredibly
efficacious and resilient in the past are on the verge of being
overwhelmed. Without urgent deployment of significant additional
elements of the UNAMID force, insecurity facing UN and nongovernmental
humanitarian organizations could quickly become intolerable. At the
same time, large-scale military violence is also likely to continue,
creating significant additional displacement and humanitarian burdens
Indeed, Khartoum’s lead official on Darfur, presidential adviser
Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e recently declared the brutal military offensive
targeting civilians north of el-Geneina will be unaffected by world

“A senior Sudanese official today [March 21, 2008] said that the
military campaign in Darfur will continue unabated. ‘We have no
problem fighting those who fight us. The UN Security Council will not
stop us even if the whole world screams,’ said Nafi Ali Nafi a
presidential assistant and the deputy leader of the ruling National
Congress Party [National Islamic Front], who was also assigned the
Darfur peace process. Nafi made the statements in a meeting with a
limited group of reporters including the daily Al-Hayat newspaper which
published his remarks.” (The Sudan Tribune [dateline: Khartoum], March
21, 2008)

When confronted by Agence France-Presse with overwhelming evidence from
the UNAMID human rights investigation in West Darfur, Khartoum officials
made similarly clear the regime’s contempt for the UN and
international law:

“‘The armed forces rejects UN accusations and bias regarding the
performance of the armed forces in its duty in chasing bandits and
rebels,’ spokesman Othman Mohammed al-Agbash was quoted as telling the
official SUNA news agency. Agbash labelled the UN accusations part of a
‘campaign seeking to distort the image of Sudan’ and instead accused
Darfur rebels of looting, carrying out armed robberies and using
civilians as human shields.” [ ]

“When questioned by AFP about what the UN called credible accounts of
uniformed armed men raping and looting, Captain Abdul Samie Haj Ahmed
denounced the ‘baseless lies.’ ‘The armed forces deny the
accusations of the United Nations report and assure that they will
continue to seek out rebels and bandits all over Sudan... The armed
forces have never targeted its people,’ he said.” (Agence
France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], March 23, 2008)

But of course evidence of such civilian targeting is overwhelming in
the report assembled by UNAMID human rights investigators for UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights (March 20, 2008,
www.ohchr.org/Documents/Press/WestDarfurreport2003.pdf). What is
clear in such statements of denial is a complete contempt for the UN,
the international community, and international law. Thus it is hardly
surprising that Khartoum also recently confirmed again that it refuses
to extradite to the International Criminal Court Ahmed Haroun (now,
perversely, state minister for Humanitarian Affairs) and Ali Kushayb,
one of the most senior Janjaweed leaders. Khalid al-Mubarak, of the
Sudanese embassy in London, declared that these indicted men will not be
handed over to the ICC:

"The International Criminal Court is itself controversial and highly
discredited. [ ] He says Kushayb and Harun are not up for trial because
there is no evidence against them. He also dismisses the evidence that
led to their ICC indictment as vague reports and accusations by people
who are not credible.” (Voice of America [dateline: London], March 31,

But lead ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has made clear that he has
an overwhelming case against both men, including numerous eyewitness
accounts of their participation in atrocity crimes in Darfur.

Such open and continuous contempt for the international community and
international law tells us all too much about the fate of ongoing
humanitarian efforts and further deployment of the UN-authorized
protection force (UNAMID). Unrebuked for its intransigence, facing no
significant consequences for its obstructionism, Khartoum will simply
continue its deadly ways. The extraordinary successes of humanitarian
efforts over the past four years will be replaced by incalculable human
destruction and suffering. Large-scale withdrawal or severe
curtailments of operations by aid organizations remain clear
possibilities, with devastating consequences. The provision of food and
clean water at the moment of greatest vulnerability remains highly
tenuous. It is exceedingly likely that Global Acute Malnutrition rates,
despite being unreported, have increased significantly since late last
summer. This most sensitive barometer of overall humanitarian
conditions requires urgent investigation; the promulgation of data and
statistical analyses should be a critical priority.

If the world community waits longer, if it throws the dice yet again
with humanitarian assistance and civilian security, we may indeed see
the precipitous cataclysm of human destruction that has long been
threatened in Darfur. There have been dire forecasts before, including
by this writer on a number of occasions; some have been borne out, some
not; I have had much company in such anticipation of acute risks to
human life and livelihood. But never have the odds been so fully
stacked against the people of Darfur and Eastern Chad. Are we really
willing to throw the dice yet again, with many hundreds of thousands of
civilian lives at risk? With the rains approaching, we will soon be
left with nothing to say but “alea jacta est.”

* Eric Reeves is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu. www.sudanreeves.org

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