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Humanitarian Conditions in Darfur: An Overview (Part 2)


Security for civilians and humanitarians in Darfur has entered freefall, clearly by design on the part of the National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. The kidnapping of humanitarian workers and the killing of UNAMID troops, especially in areas controlled by Khartoum and its militia allies, has created an unprecedented crisis, threatening aid operations throughout Darfur. With this as context, the present analysis focuses on information and data concerning humanitarian conditions in Darfur and eastern Chad, looking particularly at water, sanitation, and primary medical care. Part 1 addressed issues of humanitarian access, capacity, food security, and the deterrent effect of humanitarian presence in the midst of attacks on civilians. To gain even a partial overview of broader conditions on the ground is to see how precipitously and massively destructive withdrawal by humanitarian organizations and UNAMID would be.

By Eric Reeves


July 3, 2010 — There can be no understanding of humanitarian conditions or humanitarian capacity in Darfur without a clear understanding of the security crisis that has intensified so dramatically over the past several of months. The same is true in eastern Chad, although with differences in the forces at work. What is notable in recent weeks is the growing outcry from humanitarian and human rights organizations in Darfur, as well as unusually strong statements from a few UN humanitarian officials, especially speaking confidentially. The breaking point has clearly been reached. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the Khartoum regime is instigating, or at least deliberately tolerating, violence against humanitarians and peacekeepers, a feeling has grown among previously timid actors that there is very little left to lose by speaking out. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, expressed his concern in hedged, but unmistakable language:

“‘The steady deterioration of security conditions, particularly in the past two months, is not only affecting the population but directly targets the humanitarian community.’” (UN News Center, June 24, 2010)

Of course “the steady deterioration of security conditions” can’t “directly target the humanitarian community”: what Charpentier is referring to is the compelling evidence that Khartoum is supporting those who are attacking, kidnapping, and threatening aid workers. There are agents responsible for this “steady deterioration of security conditions,” and we know a great deal about them. As an especially well-informed UN official, speaking confidentially, declared:

“The reality is that the same groups, affiliated through a well known set of leader(s), are responsible not only for the kidnapping of [the American woman aid worker abducted on May 18, 2010], but also the Rwandan killings [in the June 21, 2010 assault on UNAMID peacekeeping personnel], and the [June 22, 2010] abduction of the [two German aid workers from] Technisches Hilfswerk.” (email received June 26, 2010)

This explanation is well understood and widely accepted by both the UN and nongovernmental international aid organizations (INGOs), and they will declare as much confidentially: “[These kidnappings and attacks on UNAMID are] a by-product of the attitude of the [Khartoum] regime towards the international community on its soil” (email received June 27, 2010). Moreover, UN aid agencies, INGOs, and human rights groups repeatedly point out that the attacks on peacekeepers and the kidnapping of aid workers almost invariably occur in areas controlled either by Khartoum’s regular military forces or its militia proxies. Indeed, the German aid workers from Technisches Hilfswerk (THW) were kidnapped from their compound within Nyala town, the capital of South Darfur and the largest city in Darfur.

Darfuris themselves have repeatedly declared that the purpose of regime-backed insecurity is to force the evacuation of humanitarian organizations. Most recently, the coordinator for camps around Zalingei (West Darfur) declared that, “the kidnapping is part of a government scheme to force aid agencies to leave Darfur and empty the camps of displaced people who depend on humanitarian aid” (Radio Dabanga [dateline: Zalingei], June 25, 2010). This view is constantly reiterated by Darfuris, both on the ground and in the diaspora, and Khartoum itself has been explicit about its plans to empty the camps (http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article33084). The member organizations of the Human Rights and Advocacy Network for Democracy (HAND) declared in a statement from Geneva (June 22, 2010) that, “Killing and injuring of UNAMID soldiers and personnel as well as the abduction of relief workers in Darfur seem to be a calculated policy to force UNAMID and the humanitarian community to leave Darfur.

Publicly, the indirection of UN Humanitarian Coordinator Charpentier is politically necessary; the most he can say without endangering the standing of UN and INGOs organizations is:

"‘We strongly urge the Government of Sudan and other stakeholders to engage with the humanitarian community at the local and federal levels to rapidly improve the overall security situation throughout Darfur.’” (UN News Center, June 24, 2010)

But the implicit accusation is unmistakable as insecurity continues to attenuate even further humanitarian reach and space: “the reduction of access due to insecurity has already resulted in some cases of either a complete suspension or a serious reduction of activities and delivery of assistance by humanitarian agencies.”

Moreover, in addition to the insecurity that Khartoum has strategically ramped up, the regime has also deliberately and unambiguously blocked humanitarian assistance to extremely vulnerable populations near the sites of recent military actions. European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, following a four-day mission to Sudan, reported that, “Sudanese authorities had turned down 26 of more than 30 recent requests for aid road trips in South Darfur state. Flights were also being blocked, she said.” [NB: these figures are for South Darfur alone—ER]

"‘We are calling on the government to allow the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations that are key to get into more remote areas,’ she said by phone from Kampala. ‘One in five or one in six requests were granted... They have to shift more towards access being the rule rather than the exception.’” [ … ]

"‘The fact is that insecurity is worsening and that the populations in the camps is increasing as a result of more people fleeing more dangerous areas... Darfur must not be forgotten,’ said Georgieva. Aid groups said this week Sudanese security forces blocked flights and road trips in Darfur, stranding staff and stopping food deliveries.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], June 13, 2010)

Not only are the populations in many camps increasing rapidly—camps without sufficient capacity for the present number of displaced persons—but some victims of recent military attacks by Khartoum and its militia proxies are attempting to survive in the open, even as the rainy season has begun:

“Al Sadiq Rokero, the SLA humanitarian affairs official, told Radio Dabanga that…the humanitarian situation for people [in eastern Jebel Marra] is bad…mentioning the approaching rainy season which is heavy in those highland areas. The refugees are now in the open without shelter, he said, and the government refuses to allow aid agencies to access the area.” (Radio Dabanga, June 25, 2010)

In fact, as Commissioner Georgieva notes, “big parts of Jebel Marra…where fighting is ongoing, have been inaccessible since February. I can only imagine the dire conditions for the women and children who are in great need of humanitarian assistance which we are simply unable to bring them.”

Finally, insecurity serves as a means of preventing displaced persons from returning to their homes and land—land that has often been given to or taken by Arab militia members (some from Chad, Niger, and elsewhere in the Sahel). There are countless reports such as those in recent dispatches from Radio Dabanga:

“Male refugees in Sisi Camp in Kerenek locality [West Darfur] said that they had received threats from new settlers occupying their lands. The displaced had gone from the camp to their villages in order to cultivate, but they received threats not to do so. They said that the settlers prevented them from cultivating their land. The settlers reportedly claimed that they now own it and are entitled to choose how to use it. The displaced people from Sisi Camp said that that there are new settlers in the villages Gorningu, Mowgurni, Khedira and Nyuru, east of El Geneina [capital of West Darfur]. A tribal leader said that this has been ongoing for three months.” (Radio Dabanga, June 21, 2010)

“People in the displaced camp of Mershing in South Darfur said that they cannot farm out of fear of armed militias. One of the displaced people in Mershing camp said the militias rob the camp residents. He said the displaced cannot go to their farms for fear of attack against them, adding that the militias also practice rape. He noted that authorities had communicated with the displaced persons about receiving seed for planting, but the farmers wondered how they are to receive seed when they cannot move out to the farms.” (Radio Dabanga, June 28, 2010)

Even in the camps, insecurity is often extreme. In an earlier dispatch from Mershing, Radio Dabanga reported (June 4, 2010):

“Members of one of the Janjaweed militias in South Darfur gunned down a sheikh of Mershing Camp, according to a leader of the camp residents. Sheikh Abakr Hamid went outside of the camp on a trip to gather firewood when he was spotted by the janjaweed who opened fire immediately, killing the sheikh. The janjaweed then went into the camp and began firing in the air. The militia is always coming to the area of Mershing with their weapons, a camp leader told Radio Dabanga.”

Of Hassa Hissa camp near Zalingei, West Darfur, Radio Dabanga reported:

“Thirty soldiers belonging to a government-aligned militia known as the ‘camel corps’ burned down thirty houses in block eight of Hassa Hissa camp in Zalingei. A resident of the area said that four cows, four donkeys, and nine goats died in the fire. A unit from the military intelligence forces arrested a blind sheikh of the camp who is eighty years old. They also arrested the sheikh’s son’s wife. The son was not at home at the time of the raid. The displaced people told Radio Dabanga that the soldiers had found the body of one of their colleagues near the camp. He appeared to have died of wounds received in a fight near the camp.” (June 1, 2010)

Of the Tawila community, the scene of so much violence over the course of the conflict, Radio Dabanga reports:

“Armed groups attacked the market of Tawila yesterday. It caused closure on Thursday and Friday. An eyewitness told that the group looted cash and mobile phones in addition to goods exposed on the market, adding that police and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) present in the area did nothing to prevent the looting. The SAF denied any operation in Tawila. Khalid Al Sawarmi, army spokesman, told Radio Dabanga that Tawila is under control of the SAF, so there is no need for any operation there.” (February 26, 2010)

An example of how unconstrained Khartoum’s militia proxies are was illustrated in the brutal attacks on Kass in February:

“Today [February 9, 2010] government-backed militias in Kass (South Darfur) have attacked two different camps of internally displaced people. Three people were confirmed dead, and two Fur sheikhs, Musa Tingil and Musa Dakka, were arrested amongst 40 other residents. The Border Guards [formerly Janjaweed] set Yahya Haggar camp and the Janubia market ablaze, while Bitari camp was partly destroyed. Radio Dabanga recorded this morning intense cross fire and provided witness reports.” (February 9, 2010)

And even those civilians who have managed to remain in their villages over the course of more than seven years of war increasingly find themselves the targets of bombing attacks. (For a terrifying first-person account of how such attacks are experienced on the ground, see an October 1, 2008 post from The Guardian, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/01/sudan-darfur). Humanitarian projects are also targeted by bombing attacks, and following the recent military offensives by Khartoum, humanitarians report that their compounds have been thoroughly looted. Attacks on newly constructed water pumps have also been reported.

Former Janjaweed, recycled into the Central Reserve Police, were reported last November as attacking villages in North Darfur:

“[The particularly reliable SLA Commander—ER] Suleiman Marajan [ … ] told Radio Dabanga that a column of Central Reserve forces composed of 25 land-cruiser vehicle attacked the villages of Jabal Issa and Al Hara in the northern mountain of Meidob. According to the commander [himself from the Meidob tribe], the attackers burned dozens of homes, looted properties and arrested eleven persons. [ … ] [Marajan said the] SLA did not have a military presence in those areas [and that the attacks] deliberately targeted civilians.” (November 26, 2009)

Some examples of aerial attacks on civilians:

“Government fighter planes bombed yesterday Moo near Mount Isa in North Darfur. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the bombs killed Sheikh Abdullah Abdul Rahman and wounded another young man named Saleh Ibrahim Ismail.” (March 11, 2010)

“A government offensive against a rebel group in central Darfur has intensified in the past few days, a United Nations official said Friday [February 26, 2010]. Samuel Hendricks, a United Nations humanitarian official, said the fighting in a stronghold of the Sudan Liberation Army in Jebel Marra had escalated, with confirmed reports of aerial bombardments in Deribat [main town, with a civilian population of 35,000] and two other surrounding areas.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], February 26, 2010)

An especially vicious bombing attack on Wergeniga (West Darfur) was detailed by Mohamed Suleiman, a Darfuri in exile who has maintained excellent contacts on the ground:

“The aerial bombing by the Government of Sudan had targeted water reservoir where civilians with their livestock gather for water. The location is called Khazzan Wergeniga (means the Dam of Wergeniga). These are water reservoirs made by walls of sand in heaps to collect water during the rainy season [hafirs—see http://www.eng.warwick.ac.uk/ircsa/abs/5th/651gaddal.htm and below] and some hold water for the period of dry season. The Government of Sudan used to target these locations through the past eight years to kill civilians and animals that the villagers depend on.

Through a source (via phone), this last raid had killed at least 25 civilians, wounded many, and killed many animals. The dead were 8 shepherds, 9 women, and 8 children. The dead children are:

2 daughters of Dowsa Shoushah (a villager).

2 daughters of Arga (a villager)

1 son of Abbaker Kouko (a villager)

3 daughters of Yashiero (a villager)

Among dead women was the wife of Gussieb Hussein (villager).

Among the dead also an elder: Abdulrahman Garem Fadul 66 years old.

Fadul is the father of Bakheit Garem Fadul, a Darfuri [who] lives in Oregon (US).”

Darfuris face yet another military threat in the form of attacks by Chadian rebel groups that Khartoum has long supported:

“Mohammed Abubakar, one of the omdas (tribal leaders) of the [non-Arab, or African] Berti in Khazan Kulkul, said that the Chadian opposition forces stationed near Mallit have repeatedly launched attacks on the citizens of the villages of Hariga, Krekara and Um Beyada.” (Radio Dabanga, May 19, 2010)

Given such massive insecurity, ongoing threats to humanitarian operations and peacekeeping, and escalating military violence, any overview of humanitarian conditions in Darfur must be provisional, accepting that Khartoum’s political calculations might result in actions that overwhelm existing aid capacity and further limit already severely attenuated humanitarian reach. Moreover, the same insecurity that inhibits the movement of humanitarian personnel also prevents them from speaking publicly about what they have seen: humanitarian organizations are simply too fearful to publicize data or analyses that Khartoum might find objectionable. And by aligning themselves so closely with the various ministries in Khartoum that are involved in responding to Darfur, UN agencies have severely compromised their ability to speak out or promulgate data embarrassing to the regime and its claims about the larger situation in the region. As noted in Part 1 of this analysis (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article264.html), this is making a deal with the devil—a point underscored by a UN official speaking confidentially:

“[Khartoum’s] ’requirement’ to review all aspects of assessment, from methodology through to sample sizes and results, likely had greatest impact on advocacy, awareness-raising, and fund-raising efforts of UNICEF and its partners. Of course, it also allowed any disputed facts from being made public. This censorship, whether imposed or applied internally, began years ago and it took time for [Khartoum] to understand exactly what bureaucratic vices worked to reduce the publication of such findings.” (email received May 30, 2010)

What we see in the present dearth of information is the success of the regime in understanding exactly “what bureaucratic vices work to reduce the publication” of full and accurate information on humanitarian conditions.


Despite the paucity of data and comprehensive sector analyses, there are constant anecdotal reports of water shortages, some acute, in the camp areas of Darfur. Many water tables are or have been at dangerously low levels; and without at least an average rainy season this year, some groundwater capacity may become fully depleted after last year’s poor rains. At the same time, traditional rainwater storage—primarily the hafir reservoirs—are suffering for lack of maintenance, typically a communal responsibility. Here again, the consequences of extremely high levels of insecurity are taking a toll on the extraordinary coping abilities of Darfuris.

Our best overviews of the kinds of problems that confront camps for displaced persons, with their intense population concentrations, remain the October 2007 study by Tearfund, “Darfur: Water Supply in a Vulnerable Environment” [ * ] and the October 2008 report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), “Darfur: The Case for Drought Preparedness” (postconflict.unep.ch/publications/darfur_drought.pdf). The latter builds on the former, and makes a number of critical observations. We need to bear in mind, the UN report stresses, that in addition to Internally Displaced Persons camps, sometimes adjacent to “host communities” (if considered together, the report uses the term “communities”), there are also a number of urban areas that “have been subject to particularly rapid population expansion and drought risks need to be addressed with their surrounding areas, camps and settlements as a whole.”

The primary conclusion of the report focuses on the possibility of groundwater depletion:

“The report confirms the assessment that the principal risk associated with groundwater depletion in Darfur is the risk of acute depletion at camps and communities that are vulnerable to the impact of a year of low rainfall. The vulnerability of communities is a function of the water demand (population and water use), local geological conditions, rainfall and surface water flow. Camps on Basement Complex geology have little capacity for groundwater storage so the groundwater supplies are dependent on annual recharge from a nearby wadi.”

Some camps are much more favorably located than others: “If there is a good hydraulic connection with the wadi [river bed] and the wadi has a good volume of alluvial storage then the water resources in the camp are likely to be resilient to a year of low rains (Mornei would be a camp in this category). If, however, the camp is not connected to a wadi (such as Dereig or Otash) then the camp is dependent on the little storage available in the fractures and weathered zones of the Basement Complex beneath the camp alone and so would be vulnerable to groundwater depletion in a year of low rains. Between these extremes are a range of camps where the extent of connectivity and recharge from wadis to the aquifers beneath the camps is partial and not well known.”

What such a complex geological and humanitarian assessment yields is a list of camps and communities that are vulnerable to groundwater depletion. This list is long, and includes some of the largest displaced persons camps and communities in Darfur:

“North Darfur: Abu Shouk, Al Salaam, Kebkabiya Town, Kutum Rural, Tawila Town, Kutum Town, Saraf Omra Town, Kassab, Zamzam, Mellit.

South Darfur: Otash, Dereig, Kalma, Kass Town, East Jebal Marra, Muhajirya-South Camp, Beleil.

West Darfur: Kereinik, Seleah, Kulbus, Abu Surug, Umm Dukhun, Golo AU.”

Another season of poor rains could see rapid depletion of water supplies in many of these locations, with extremely dire consequences for human health. And some camps present extraordinary challenges in sustaining groundwater supplies. Tearfund notes in its October 2007 report that “12 of 15 boreholes have run dry in Abu Shouk.”

This is the context in which to understand other dimensions of the threats to water supplies in Darfur. Among these is the terrible aftermath of the ethnically-targeted destruction of non-Arab, or African, villages, particularly in the earlier years of the Darfur genocide. We have countless reports from humanitarian organizations, human rights groups, and on-the-ground news reporting of the poisoning of water wells with corpses, animal and human. These acts make it impossible to rehabilitate the affected wells or water sources. Even if displaced persons could securely return to their villages, many would find there is not enough water for agriculture, feeding livestock, or even human survival. Agricultural water systems were also often destroyed in attacks by Khartoum’s regular forces and its Janjaweed militia allies. The rehabilitation of local water sources in rural Darfur will require many years of sustained work.

Khartoum has also over the past several years restricted supplies of fuel to camps where it is necessary for mechanized water-pumping; this has been notoriously the case at Kalma camp outside Nyala (see, for example, Radio Dabanga dispatch of June 11, 2010).

Yet another complicating factor is the immense water requirements for the UNAMID force that continues to deploy into Darfur, with an eventual goal (including administrative staff) of close to 30,000 personnel. In some locations in Darfur, UNAMID deployment will require water that is already in short supply. This is inevitable, but certainly complicates the overall water problem.

Because water shortages have been sporadic, there is rarely news reporting about this critical issue, even as humanitarians devote a huge amount of their time and resources to maintaining adequate supplies of clean water. These extraordinary efforts are too little recognized, even as they have been essential in keeping morbidity and mortality levels from exploding upwards. Reuters represents an exception to the lack of reporting on water issues, and provided an urgent dispatch earlier this year:

“Refugees in parts of Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region are desperately short of food and water due to a lack of rain, and problems have been exacerbated in at least one area by Khartoum’s expulsion of aid groups, officials said on Thursday [January 28, 2010]. UN officers told Reuters the remote western region only received ‘a fraction’ of the rainfall of previous years and aid groups were planning to step up efforts to reach millions of people displaced by seven years of conflict.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], January 28, 2010)

The implications for food and conflict were highlighted:

“‘Due to low levels of rainfall last year, state authorities and the humanitarian community expect significant food shortages in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in 2010, increasing the possibility of further conflict,’ read a statement from Darfur’s joint UN/African Union UNAMID peacekeepers. […] UNAMID said a joint assessment mission with UN agencies had found worrying signs of shortages around the North Darfur settlements of Dar El Salaam and Shangil Tobay and their surrounding displacement camps. ‘IDPs in both regions were found to be in desperate need of food and water,’ it said.”

But the implications of this report were greatest for the situation we now find: groundwater, severely depleted because of the lack of rain last year, will become entirely depleted if there are poor rains this year (see above). The “hunger gap”—the period between spring planting and fall harvest, largely coinciding with the rainy season—started especially early this year and many malnutrition indicators are already alarming, especially in North Darfur (see Part 1 of this analysis).

But natural forces are not along responsible for the growing water and food crisis: as the Reuters dispatch also reported:

“Another UN official, who asked not to be named, said the aid group Oxfam [Great Britain] had provided water services in Shangil Tobay before it was expelled last year. ‘That gap has not been properly filled,’ said the official.”

Oxfam (Great Britain) was expelled, along with twelve other distinguished international organizations, on March 4, 2009 following the International Criminal Court indictment of National Islamic Front/National Congress Party President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity; the preposterous pretext for the expulsions was, essentially, espionage. The consequences of these expulsions—themselves arguably crimes against humanity—have been all too apparent to those willing to look honestly at what was lost, and water and sanitation have been among the humanitarian sectors hardest hit (for a powerful argument that the obstruction of humanitarian relief is in fact a crime against humanity, see John D. Kraemer, Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharya, and Lawrence Gostin, “Blocking humanitarian assistance: a crime against humanity?” The Lancet, October 4, 2008 [Volume 372], at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2808%2961499-3/fulltext).

Beyond the limited formal data and reports we have, there are many reports from individual camps, typically using Radio Dabanga as a clearinghouse. For example,

“People in Kassab camp in northern Darfur suffer from food shortages and water shortages with the influx of new migrants to the camp. Leaders of the camp appealed to the United Nations and humanitarian aid organizations to rescue the camp residents. One of the leaders of the displaced peopled told this to Radio Dabanga.” ([dateline: Kassab Camp], June 10, 2010)

“Displaced persons in Kalma camp suffer from a water problem and said that there is no gasoline to run the water pumps in the camp. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that crowds of camp residents gather in long lines around the water pumps in the camp. The displaced said that that the expulsion of foreign organizations is what led to this problem. The humanitarian community had provided the gas for the water system of the camp.” (July 1, 2010)

“People in Shamal IDP Camp north of Nertiti in West Darfur suffer from a lack of clean drinking water. According to a source in the camp, which is home to more than 35,000 displaced Darfuris, the camp has only two hand pumps and two gas pumps for drinking water. Hundreds of people stand in long queues at each pump to get drinking water.” (May 31, 2010)

“Displaced persons in Neem IDP camp in Ed Daien suffered for five days a lack of drinking water due to the failure of the pump which supplies water to the camp. A displaced from the camp told Radio Dabanga that the water cut led to the deterioration of health conditions. Displaced people appealed to humanitarian organizations in Ad Daein to help repair the pump.” (March 18, 2010)


One of the most significant consequences of the March 2009 humanitarian expulsions was the loss of oversight and assessment capabilities. This is telling in water quality, where monitoring of bacteriological content has begun to fall through the cracks in some locations (see “Bacteriological quality of drinking water in Nyala,” 18 May, 2010, at http://www.springerlink.com/content/nq1327x76k773512/ ). But just as ominous are the many reports of breakdowns in the sanitation and hygiene regimens necessary when so many people are confined so closely together. Latrine maintenance appears to have fallen seriously behind schedule with the expulsion of humanitarian organizations that had this key task as part of their mandate. Mercy Corps, for example—one of the thirteen organizations expelled—had primary responsibility for constructing latrines in the Zalingei camps, as well as conducting health education campaigns in an effort to prevent malaria.

The number and movement of displaced persons adds even greater strains to already overburdened camp resources. More than 500,000 people have been newly displaced in Darfur alone since January 2008 (the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre found that as of May 2010, “at least 4.9 million people are displaced in Darfur, Greater Khartoum, and the ten States of southern Sudan”—Sudan’s is the greatest number in the world today (http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/sudan). New latrine construction to accommodate these newly displaced also appears to have fallen far behind what is hygienically necessary. When the rains begin in earnest, the overflow from poorly maintained latrines and human defecation without the benefit of latrines will both contribute to risks of high levels of morbidity and ultimately mortality. On May 7, 2010, Radio Dabanga reported on what is likely to be a recurrent theme this rainy season:

“Residents of Khamsa Degaig camp near Zalingei suffer from the spread of meningitis and diarrhea. They attribute the spread of diarrhea among the inhabitants of the camp to the pollution of the environment and drinking water after the government last year expelled humanitarian organizations that purified water and provided sanitation services in the camps. Khamsa Degaig is inhabited by internally displaced persons (IDPs). Four camps surrounding Zalingei host approximately 100,000 IDPs.”

We have very little quantitative data on this important sector of humanitarian assistance, particularly data that give a sense of the overall shortcomings. But anecdotal evidence—including from organizations responsible for sanitation and hygiene—is alarming. We might formerly have gleaned important information from the quarterly reports of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): the “Darfur Humanitarian Profiles.” But the last published Profile was Number 34 (representing conditions as of January 1, 2009); the next scheduled Profile was to reflect conditions as of April 1, 2009—only weeks after Khartoum’s expulsion of thirteen aid organizations (and the closing of three major Sudanese humanitarian and human rights organizations). We are left to draw the inevitable conclusion: the regime has intimidated the UN sufficiently that it will no longer compile and consolidate critical humanitarian information on food security, nutrition, water needs, health, agriculture, education, and child protection—important categories in the now defunct Profiles.


Many camps report wholly inadequate primary health care, both in the form of trained personnel and suitable medical resources. The expulsion of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sections from France and Holland has left a huge hole in the provision of primary health care. Other expelled organizations also had significant commitments to primary health care. Still other medical relief organizations have simply withdrawn from Darfur because of security issues. For example, the French relief organization Aide Médicale Internationale (AMI) ended its programs in Darfur last August (2009) after the kidnapping of two of their aid workers. Two Sudanese workers for AMI had been killed in Darfur in February 2009. AMI operated a coordination center in Nyala, with operational centers in Khor Abeche, Ed al Fursan, and Shereia.

Médecins du Monde, the only primary health care organization in populous eastern Jebel Marra, was earlier this year forced to evacuate because of Khartoum’s military offensive. The many tens of thousands of displaced civilians are reported to have very little access to primary health care, and what clinics survived the military offensive are largely without medical supplies. The health center in Feina was completely destroyed by Janjaweed looters.

Potable water is in short supply in eastern Jebel Marra and malnutrition is rising very rapidly; most people were forced to flee their villages in February shortly after harvest, but had no ability to carry their food with them. They have entered the “hunger gap” with no food reserves, no humanitarian access, and thus no food deliveries for more than four months. Malnutrition among children under five is rising rapidly and will continue to rise without humanitarian access, making them extremely vulnerable to disease (a number of deaths have already been reported). Several reports indicate that displaced persons fear to gather in larger numbers, and that shelter is very limited. Limited epidemiological data suggest that a measles epidemic may rapidly unfold and spread to other regions of Darfur. An outbreak of deadly meningitis is also a major concern, according to Médecins du Monde.

[Radio Dabanga reported on April 27, 2010 that the number of meningitis cases in West Darfur alone had risen to 120. On June 3, 2010, Radio Dabanga reported that, “Citizens of El Geneina complained about lack of vaccines to combat the outbreak of meningitis, which has led to increased mortality, especially in the regions Tendalti, Rijul Kubra, Geelow, and Banjadid.”]

The International Rescue Committee—one of the most important organizations expelled in March 2009—provided programs in the areas of primary and reproductive health, environmental health (water and sanitation), and the prevention and response to gender-based violence. Notably, all the organizations that provided medical and psycho-social treatment for victims of rape and gender-based violence were among those expelled. This was no coincidence, but rather a deliberate effort to silence the humanitarian community on one of the most sensitive subjects in the Muslim world (see http://ns211683.ovh.net/spip.php?article32836). The ending of systematic treatment and data-gathering for rape has been one of the most conspicuous successes of Khartoum’s expulsion plan.

There are shortages of medical supplies in many areas, and an acute shortage of trained personnel, especially physicians. Hospital and clinic capacity is also dangerously inadequate in a number of camps and communities, and there are continual reports of essential medical relief capacity that is unable to move beyond the major urban areas. It is worth recalling here that Khartoum has in the past frequently held up the delivery of medical supplies to Darfur.

The Lancet, a distinguished British medical journal, offered a grim overview of the health implications of the expulsions shortly after they took effect (“Aid expulsions leave huge gaps in Darfur’s health services,” March 28, 2009, Volume 373, at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2809%2960633-4/fulltext). What we need now is an equivalent account of the current crisis in provision of primary medical care; but yet again, neither the UN nor INGOs feel safe enough to speak openly and honestly about the scale of shortcomings that threaten many hundreds of thousands of Darfuris. Instead, we must rely on what is reported by Radio Dabanga and intrepid humanitarian workers on the ground who dare to communicate confidentially:

“People in Mornei IDP camp in West Darfur suffer because of food shortages, the deterioration of the security situation, and absence of health services. The displaced from the camp described to Radio Dabanga the living conditions in Mornei as difficult. The displaced are being threatened with weapons and robbed of property by armed men in the camps and UNAMID is unable to protect the IDPs.” (Radio Dabanga, March 16, 2010)

“Displaced from Mershing, Dhomma and Menawashe in South Darfur complained about a lack of food, water and health services. A number of people displaced from Mershing told Radio Dabanga they have no choice except to leave the camps and live in the outskirts of Nyala unless the World Food Program resume their usual food ration distribution. The Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs from the camp told Radio Dabanga that the people suffer from lack of food causing malnutrition among children. The problems started particularly after humanitarian organizations were expelled from the camp.” (Radio Dabanga, March 25, 2010)

We know there are serious deficiencies in delivering primary health care in far too many locations in Darfur. But we don’t have the data that will allow us to quantify these deficiencies or the assessment capability to determine where medical needs are greatest. The world’s largest and most endangered humanitarian operation is to a very considerable extent flying blind. And to the extent generalizations are confidentially offered by organizations in Darfur, they tend to be represented by this grim and well-researched assessment: “2009 and early 2010 witnessed a stark deterioration in the ability of the international community to respond to humanitarian needs.” The blame lies with the Khartoum regime that restricts access, intimidates aid workers, engineers paralyzing insecurity, and denies organizations the ability to promulgate timely and comprehensive overviews of various humanitarian sectors. But blame also lies with the UN and the rest of the international community, which have not only allowed these organizations to be intimidated to the point of silence, but failed to replace the humanitarian capacity of expelled organizations with sustainable alternatives (see http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2010/100604_Holmes.doc.htm).


While conflict and violence in eastern Chad and Darfur are ultimately inseparable, the international humanitarian responses have been markedly different in several respects, even if both operations confront levels of insecurity that are deeply threatening. Aid for Darfuri refugees and Chadian Internally Displaced Persons (as well as a significant number of refugees from the Central Africa Republic [CAR]) comes from the west; the aid operations for camps along the border move through N’Djamena, with Abeche serving as the eastern hub. At present, most insecurity derives from banditry, which thrives and grows precisely because of the vulnerability and substantial resources of aid workers (who have vehicles, sat phones, money, and convey food and medicine). But despite the high levels of insecurity, there is no equivalent to Khartoum’s hostility to humanitarian operations in Darfur—or the deliberate targeting of aid workers and operations; Chad’s President Idriss Déby is not enthusiastic about either a large refugee presence in his country or an international aid operation. But he has not engaged in the same systematic efforts to disrupt aid operations as has the regime in Khartoum. His has to date been a policy of callous indifference.

But more troublingly, Déby refuses to acknowledge the current levels of violence in eastern Chad, and the growing threat posed to humanitarian work and the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians. In June 2010 the UN High Commission for Refugees estimated that almost 270,000 Darfuri refugees remain in Chad; approximately 170,000 Chadians have been internally displaced; and there are over 65,000 refugees from CAR, mainly in the south. This population of some 500,000 vulnerable and needy civilians represents a major humanitarian crisis in its own right, and has received far too little international attention…has been too often regarded as a sideshow to Darfur.

To be sure, Chad has not been overlooked by humanitarian organizations; and when these organizations are not prevented from doing their work, they have demonstrated remarkable courage, resourcefulness, and success. The work of the International Rescue Committee, for example, at Oure Cassoni and Breidjing camps has been exemplary. But in fact insecurity has forced several organizations to suspend their work, or significantly reduce staff presence, and this has left a number of vulnerable populations beyond reach. Déby’s recent insistence that the only international protection force in eastern Chad, operating under UN auspices, be withdrawn will certainly increase violence and instability in the coming months; and many more civilians will be left without access to humanitarian assistance.

Present forms of violence and insecurity are quite different from what was reported earlier in the crisis along the Chad/Darfur border. For through 2007, the major threats to Darfuri refugees in Chad came from cross-border violence, village destruction, and looting by Janjaweed militias as well as Khartoum’s regular ground and air forces. A series of authoritative reports from Human Rights Watch in 2006-2007 were unambiguous in their findings:

“The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to its neighbor by providing material support to Janjaweed militias and by failing to disarm or control them, by backing Chadian rebel groups that it allows to operate from bases in Darfur, and by deploying its own armed forces across the border into Chad.” [ … ]

“On some occasions, the Janjaweed attacks appear to be coordinated with those of the Chadian rebels. On other occasions, Janjaweed militias have carried out attacks inside Chad accompanied by Sudanese army troops with helicopter gunship support.” (“Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” February 2006, at http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/chad0206/).

“Sudanese government aircraft bombed villages in eastern Chad in October 2006, part of a broader pattern of indiscriminate bombing attacks against civilians in Darfur.” [ … ]

“Human Rights Watch has uncovered evidence linking some attacks against civilians in eastern Chad with known Janjaweed militia commanders or with Sudanese government paramilitary forces known to include many Janjaweed militia members.” (“‘They Came Here to Kill Us,” Militia Attacks and Ethnic Targeting of Civilians,” January 2007, at http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11075/).

The perpetrators of this violence enjoyed “total impunity,” according to Human Rights Watch, even as the ethnic targeting of mainly non-Arab or African civilians is one the consistent themes in the organization’s reports:

“With the Chad-Sudan border all but unguarded, Janjaweed militia based in Darfur are raiding deeper into Chad than ever before, exacerbating ethnic tensions and drawing ethnic groups into blood feuds that are taking on their own momentum.” (“Violence Beyond Borders: The Human Rights Crisis in Eastern Chad,” June 2006, at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,HRW,COUNTRYREP,TCD,,44c75bc44,0.html).

It is important to remember, as Human Rights Watch notes, that this has long been an impoverished region on both sides of the border: “People living along the Chad-Sudan border, already among the world’s poorest, have little access to national or international humanitarian assistance.”

Chadian host communities have done their best to accommodate refugees from Darfur (often people of the same tribal group), but the arid nature of the land, the lack of pasturage, and the perceived favoring of refugees over IDPs in the provision of humanitarian assistance have all led to growing friction, and some of this has turned violent.

But again, what currently is most threatening to aid operations for the displaced is violent banditry; and such vicious, opportunistic assaults will certainly accelerate as the only protection force in the region—the UN Mission to Central African Republic and Chad (known by its French acronym MINURCAT)—begins to withdraw this month. This mission, the successor to a European protection force known as EUFOR (which has remained the military backbone of MINURCAT), comes at the insistence of President Déby, who has cynically declared MINURCAT a “failure.” Such insistence on removing international protection flies directly in the face of recommendations from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Physicians for Human Rights. In response to the UN Security Council resolution to withdraw MINURCAT, Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa director, spoke for the human rights community in declaring:

“‘The Security Council’s decision to withdraw peacekeepers is premature and dangerous. It will increase insecurity in the area and undermine attempts to provide emergency humanitarian assistance,’ said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa director. ‘MINURCAT has demonstrated it is able to play a significant role in bolstering security and human rights protection in eastern Chad. This is not the time for the Chadian government to pull the plug on MINURCAT and the Security Council should stand up for the vulnerable women, men and young people in the region.’” (“UN move to withdraw from Chad puts thousands at risk, Amnesty International,” May 24, 2010)

Humanitarian organizations are fearful of speaking too bluntly about the security risks, worried that this will increase hostility on the part of the Chadian regime; but we have been given many clear hints of dismay over the UN Security Council decision to accommodate Déby’s demand. And prior to the decision, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes certainly spoke for the entire humanitarian community in his February 17, 2010 address to the Security Council:

“‘We want MINURCAT to stay and we want it to stay with its full complement [full deployment was never achieved; the current force of fewer than 4,000 peacekeepers falls well short of the numbers authorized—ER]. We think they’re very important for the safety and security of the people in the camps, the civilians in general and for the humanitarian operation. I hope there’s still room for discussion with the Chadian authorities, because we really fear the consequences if the force were withdrawn.’ [ … ] Holmes said it was ‘very hard to imagine at the moment’ that Chadian forces could protect civilians.’” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], February 17, 2010)

But the Security Council has nonetheless decided to draw down MINURCAT this year, and it is simply not possible that protection for aid operations and civilians can be provided by the local gendarmerie that MINURCAT had been working to train (the Détachement Intégré de Sécurité). Open skepticism about the capabilities of the Détachement Intégré de Sécurité (DIS) has been expressed by Holmes, other UN humanitarian officials, and many INGOs, and there is no evidence that the DIS has begun to become the force required to provide security along the vast Darfur/Chad border and the camps that reach from Oure Cassoni in the north to the Goz Beida and Kou Kou areas to the south. Indeed it may well collapse “without continued refinement, mentoring, and the establishment of a monitoring system.” (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/ASAZ-832KHX?OpenDocument)

Ultimately what lies behind Déby’s decision is a cynically motivated rapprochement between N’Djamena and Khartoum, which has had the effect of forcing a stand-down by both Chadian rebels operating from Darfur and Darfur rebel forces (mainly the Justice and Equality Movement) that have used Chad as a rear base. This seems likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future, as both Khartoum and N’Djamena have concluded that war by proxy has been unsuccessful and has brought unwanted international attention. This is what really lies behind the statement by Chad’s UN Ambassador, Ahmad Allam-mi, in speaking of “the changed context” in eastern Chad: “Chad is able to guarantee security in the east of Chad in order to take over from MINURCAT’s military component and that is why we are calling for its withdrawal” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], February 17, 2010). Khartoum clearly has no monopoly when it comes to lying in order to justify actions that threaten hundreds of thousands of civilian lives.


Food is the critical humanitarian issue in Chad. Chad and other Sahel nations face the prospect of large-scale food shortages this year—and this particular “hunger season” in particular—with the potential for significant starvation. And yet the UN finds itself vastly under-funded for operations, including those in eastern Chad:

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today that a lack of funding is threatening its emergency operations in Chad, where two million people are at risk of hunger. [ … ] The agency’s emergency operations expert, Fatouma Seid, said FAO has only been able to mobilize $2 million of the $11.8 million it requested last November for agricultural emergency operations in Chad as part of a UN inter-agency appeal. ‘It means FAO will only be distributing 360 of the 11,286 tons of seeds we had been planning to issue to farmers for their next harvest,’ she said. ‘We’d aimed to distribute 6,000 tons of animal feed too, but can only manage 413 tons.’”

“FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System on food and agriculture said last week that the food situation is deeply worrying in parts of the Sahel where more than 10 million people are at risk of hunger. [ … ] The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that 102,000 severely malnourished children in Chad will need life-saving treatment this year. Malnutrition is the underlying cause for half of the deaths among children under five in the country.” (UN News Center, May 25, 2010)

Unsurprisingly, the ruthless Déby regime provides little assistance to these desperately needy people, instead pouring oil wealth into the army in a desperate attempt to survive politically; here the symmetries with the Khartoum regime are all too conspicuous. Provision of food aid, at least for those in the east, has simply been left to whatever international organizations remain willing to brave the insecurity Déby is creating by insisting that MINURCAT withdraw. Even in areas much closer to N’Djamena, such as the Bahr el-Ghazal region of central western Chad, Déby is unmoved by the plight of his country’s people. A nutrition survey in the region, organized by Action Contre la Faim in December 2009, found that among children aged 6 to 59 months there was a highly alarming global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 26.9 percent— (see an excellent article from the Irish Times, “Oil money for poverty relief projects has been withheld from the starving population,” [dateline: N’Djamena] May 31, 2010, at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/0531/1224271503594.html)

There will be massive consequences to this callousness on the part of Déby: because Darfuri refugee and Chadian IDP camps are perceived by unassisted populations as likely to receive adequate food rations, a “pull factor” towards the camps has been created, one that may overwhelm present humanitarian efforts. Oxfam (Great Britain) spoke in ominous terms this past May:

“Two million people in Chad will go hungry by June [2010], the head of Oxfam Great Britain’s mission in the country said yesterday, unless there is an immediate intervention by the international community. Speaking in the capital N’djamena, Paulina Balaman said the failure of the rains for a second successive year meant pastoralist herders from the north could start moving to refugee camps in the south and east of the country, putting pressure on humanitarian hubs already straining to deal with Chad’s internally displaced people and refugees from Darfur. ‘That will mean that they won’t return to the fields to till the soil. So instead of just conflict IDPs, we’ll have food security ones too,’ she said.”

“In Goz Beida in the east, she said, there were already 55,000 IDPs, but it was possible that another 50-70,000 will arrive and become dependent on the assistance of NGOs and the UN. ‘That has already happened with the IDPs we have,’ she said. ‘There are regular food distributions’ in the camps, which meant ‘there is no incentive to go back’ home. If farmers stop making money they cannot buy seeds to restart the agricultural cycle, she added.” (Irish Times [dateline: N’Djamena], May 22, 2010)

But the food problems are simply too exigent to wait for another strategy:

“‘We did an assessment of 130,000 people in just one area, and found that 103,000 were at risk of hunger,’ said Ms. Balaman. ‘Of those, 70,000 are at risk of dying of hunger.’ She added that the situation was critical, as malnutrition levels were skyrocketing among children. ‘People are already dying.’”

Camps along the Chad/Darfur border perceived as sources of food will become irresistibly attractive to starving people, and the consequences—not only for food supplies, but for water supplies, primary medical care, and sanitation—may be overwhelming. The severity of the food crisis in Sahelian belt of Chad has been emphasized not only by Oxfam but also Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF):

“The Sahelian belt of Chad is facing one of its worst nutrition crises in recent years. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling for faster and larger deployment of humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people, particularly children under the age of 5. Several factors including erratic rains, failed harvests, soaring food prices, food stocks running out and poor access to healthcare have contributed to the increase of malnutrition rates. In the Hadjer Lamis region, recent rapid nutrition screening shows that more than 5% of children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and are at risk of dying.” [Severe Acute Malnutrition among children under five is likely to be fatal without emergency nutritional intervention—ER]

“This current rise in malnutrition is a warning that the situation will get worse as the ’hunger season’ is only just beginning. More children are at risk of becoming severely malnourished in the coming weeks, until the next harvest is expected to begin in October.” (MSF Press Release, Jun 14, 2010)

But providing food assistance in such a vast region, so lacking in security, and so far from N’Djamena (through which food supplies move) will be immensely difficult, as the UN’s World Food Program has recognized:

“Chad must protect food convoys, aid workers and civilians if [MINURCAT] peacekeepers are withdrawn from the drought-hit country where up to 2.5 million people lack adequate nutrition, the World Food Programme said on Thursday [May 6, 2010]. In a report that the United Nations Security Council will consider on Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommends that the council approve a one-year revised mandate for the force known as MINURCAT. The mission would wind down over that period and would, as of May 16 this year, hand to Chadian authorities its responsibility for protecting civilians.” [ … ]

“The blue-helmeted UN troops and police provide armed escorts for WFP convoys delivering vital rations despite frequent attacks and car-jackings by armed bandits, especially in the lawless east bordering Sudan, according to the UN agency. ‘With these acts of banditry we need a mobile and efficient force to protect us and allow us to access the population in need,’ Jean-Luc Siblot, head of WFP’s operations in Chad, told a news briefing in Geneva. ‘Chad has promised it is going to take over the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers, but we don’t know in which form.’” (Reuters [dateline: Geneva], May 6, 2010)

“Chad has promised it is going to take over the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers, but we don’t know in which form.” Two months later, N’Djamena has still no meaningful plan for the protection of civilians and humanitarian operations, and it is clear that the Détachement Intégré de Sécurité cannot begin to provide the escort services the World Food Program has called for.


The viability and sustainability of other sectors of humanitarian relief in eastern Chad are of course also heavily dependent on security, as well as funding and organizational capacity (these are of course deeply inter-related). If insecurity forces aid organizations to curtail their activities, to limit the movement of staff, or actually withdraw, then current levels of humanitarian provision—even now barely meeting key benchmarks—cannot be sustained, and there will be a precipitous drop-off. And if large civilian populations move toward refugee and IDP camps, this will compound the problems; most conspicuously, such population movements will put enormous stress on water supplies, which are already inadequate in a number of camps. As the UN High Commission for Refugees Reports:

“The supply of drinking water in the camps in the east is below international norms. Since water is a source of tension between the refugees and host communities, the infrastructure put in place for the refugees will also need to benefit the local population.” (UN High Commission for Refugees, country operations profile – Chad, May 2010)

Water is always a scarce commodity in most of eastern Chad, and it requires enormous efforts by organizations like the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide sufficient quantities of potable water. The trucking of water has already begun to some areas, and greater shortages of well water loom large. Drinking surface ground water during the current rainy season is likely to become inevitable, creating huge risks from water-borne diseases.


The work of humanitarian organizations in both refugee camps and IDP camps in eastern Chad has been extraordinary, given the remoteness of the region, the lack of international focus on the aid crisis, and the constraints imposed by this harsh land. Key humanitarian benchmarks are being met:

“Sanitation within the camps seems adequate and largely acceptable under international standards. But even here there are shortcomings: the UN High Commission for Refugees reports that, ‘Seven [refugee] camps out of 12 lack enough latrines, creating protection risks for women and children.’” (UN High Commission for Refugees, country operations profile – Chad, May 2010)

Medical services and general health conditions in the camps are also generally acceptable, and overall the quality of primary health care provided to Darfuri refugees has improved. But there are significant shortcomings; in Farchana refugee camp, for example, there are three physicians for 20,000 vulnerable refugees. There is ongoing concern about measles, meningitis, and malaria. On the latter score, work remains in the distribution of mosquito nets and the introduction of hygienic practices among the camp populations. But again, after an initial stumbling on the part of the UN, humanitarian organizations and UN aid agencies have performed heroically in eastern Chad.

Still, a survey of humanitarian indicators typically does not take account of the quality of life among refugees and displaced persons. Nor does it take account of the disruption within families: the deaths of family members, the longing for villages and lands of origin, the number of orphans, and a majority of households headed by women, often traumatized by rape. Very recently Dabanga Radio reported from Djabal refugee camp:

“The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in eastern Chad has identified 180 children who have lost their families during the war in Darfur and who do not know their location. One of the teachers at Djabal Camp for Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad said that the Commission has confirmed it is studying the options available to solve their problem.” (May 13, 2010)

But of course there are thousands of orphans among the 270,000 Darfuri refugees; many are taken care of by extended family, but others have become simply wards of the camp. And the quality of life for the majority of children and women in these camps is deeply dispiriting. We catch a glimpse of just how soul-destroying life in the camps can be from a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights, which offers accounts of women living in the Farchana refugee camp. During the interviews of 88 women, PHR investigators found that these cases,

“demonstrate the effects of crimes against these women and their communities in the form of systematic attacks characterized by murder, rape, looting, destruction and burning of property, and forced displacement in Darfur, but also in Chad where sexual assaults are perpetrated with utter impunity. The nightmare therefore continues in refugee camps in Chad through the constant threat of rape (when women forage for firewood to cook their food), chronic hunger, and a lack of essential needs to support their families. Many of the women expressed the feeling that they would be better off anywhere else and even, some said, better off dead.” (“Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support, and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women,” May 2009, at http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/report-2009-05-31.html)

Too many women have experienced what a girl—thirteen at the time—tells about herself:

“‘One of the Janjaweed pushed me to the ground. He forced my clothes off and they raped me one by one vaginally. No objects were inserted. When they shot my father, they saw I was a little girl. I did not have any energy or force against them. They used me. I started bleeding. It was so painful. I could not stand up ... I was sick for seven days. No one helped me ….’”

It is hardly surprising that the self-reporting on physical and mental health by these women reflects significant divergences from conventional humanitarian statistical overviews:

[Physicians for Human Rights] researchers asked women to rate their physical and mental health status in Darfur and now in Chad on a 1-5 scale with 1 being ‘very good’ and 5 being ‘poor.’ Women reported a marked deterioration in their physical health status since leaving Darfur, with an average ranking of 3.99 for health in Chad versus 2.06 for Darfur.”

“The study indicated a marked deterioration in self-reported mental health, where the average score in Chad was 4.90. ‘I am sad every day (since leaving Darfur). I feel not well in my skin,’ explained one respondent. Few women felt comfortable using the mental health services in the camp.”

Even food consumption, a key humanitarian indicator, is revealed in these interviews to be only partially suggestive of nutritional intake:

“A strong majority of the women interviewed, nearly 60%, reported insufficient food as a problem. Many said they were always hungry; that the diet and quantities of food were inadequate and that rations were continuing to be cut. Food rations consisted of 2,100 calories in the form of sorghum, oil, salt, sugar and a corn-soy blend. Refugees had to pay or give a portion of their ration to have the sorghum ground, and many sold their sorghum rations for milk or meat, thereby diminishing their total caloric intake.”

Human well-being can only be partially captured using standard humanitarian benchmarks.

And yet refugees continue to flee from Darfur, if not in the great flow of 2003-2004. Radio Dabanga reported (May 11, 2010):

“Fighting between the government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement has forced residents of West Darfur to flee to Chad. Approximately 2,500 people arrived at Birak in eastern Chad from Holeilat, Bir Salila, Jebel Moon and Gergi Gergi. These areas were the scene of clashes and aerial bombardment [by Khartoum’s air force]. A source today said that the UN refugee agency met the refugees and promised to find a place for them in Mileh and Konoungo camps. The witness said the refugees are faced with bad conditions staying on the ground under trees.”

Continuing refugee flight from Darfur, Chadian populations migrating in search of food aid, and an increasingly predatory armed presence all suggest that this “hunger season” may well be the meanest yet in eastern Chad.


In assessing the current humanitarian situations in Darfur and eastern Chad, it is important to bear in mind that aid needs are critical elsewhere in Sudan. South Sudan has recently gained much deserved attention to its acute need for greater supplies of food and clean water. Famine is a clear possibility given present levels of food insecurity reported by UNICEF and the Famine Early Warning System. We must also remember that eastern Sudan was also severely affected by Khartoum’s March 2009 expulsion order; the three main aid providers in the region—the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam/Great Britain, and Save the Children/UK—were among the exceedingly few international agencies working in Red Sea and Kassala states. Termination of their water, livelihoods and education programs has cut assistance to some of the poorest and most marginalized communities in this country. [ § ]

But without a fundamental recalibration of how the international community intends to respond to circumstances on the ground in Darfur and eastern Chad—without a willingness to engage with the Khartoum regime in appropriately strenuous terms—millions of innocent civilians will remain at intolerable risk, with the possibility that hundreds of thousands will die in the coming months. For eastern Chad, the indictment was put most forcefully by Ray Murphy of the Irish Centre for Human Rights (NUI Galway), someone with both military and civilian experience in peacekeeping. After briefly surveying the history of MINURCAT, and its predecessor EUFOR, as well as the present security requirements in eastern Chad, Murphy concludes:

“Whatever is decided must take account of the needs of displaced persons and refugees. Despite protestations to the contrary, the international community under the guise of the UN is now effectively abandoning vulnerable groups and humanitarian workers [in eastern Chad] to the vagaries of a discredited dictator [Idriss Déby]. Will we ever learn?” (Irish Times, May 11, 2010)

For Darfur, the judgment was rendered most harshly, and accurately, this past December by Enrico Carisch of Switzerland, until last year the head of the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur. In testimony before the US Congress, Carisch—speaking to the issue of holding Khartoum and the rebels to account under the UN arms embargo and attendant sanctions measures—was unsparing:

“‘Increasingly it looks like poorly understood and under-enforced UN sanctions are being sold out in favor of mediation whose success is far from ensured,’ [Carisch] said.” (Washington Post [dateline: Washington, DC], December 4, 2009)

Carisch was clearly referring to the policies of US special envoy Scott Gration, and the current US decision to accommodate Khartoum and its massive violations of the arms embargo:

“[T]he United States appears to have now joined the group of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions work to protect Darfurians,’ Carisch said.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], December 4, 2009)

“Sitting by quietly” is a harsh judgment but one that US policy as led by Gration increasingly deserves. For all the factitious optimism Gration continues to express, he cannot find his voice in speaking forcefully to the leadership in Khartoum, whether about the movement of arms, security issues, forced civilian returns, the requirements of UNAMID, or humanitarian access. On this last issue, Gration’s accounts of humanitarian capacity and the degree of cooperation offered by Khartoum have been deeply disingenuous. Unsurprisingly, the regime in turn senses that the US and other international actors have lost interest in Darfur and have no intention of pressing hard on critical humanitarian issues—particularly provision of the necessary security. As a consequence, the likelihood of humanitarian collapse continues to grow, and President Obama’s representative gives no sign of understanding the ways in which he has become part of the problem.

On the contrary, this past March Gration took the extraordinary step of threatening Darfuris, declaring that there will be less US attention to the crisis and peace negotiations—less diplomatic “bandwidth”—if “a full-fledged peace agreement is not reached before Sudan elections scheduled for mid-April. [ … ] ‘The are going to be a lot of things that are keeping us from focusing on Darfur,’ [Gration] told reporters here.” In the run-up to the hopelessly compromised elections—an electoral travesty that saw an indicted war criminal easily win re-election as President—Gration’s response was to set an absurd time-table: “‘In the next two weeks I think we are going to see a real big focus on the election. There is not going to be a lot of bandwidth to be doing Darfur and negotiations.’” (Washington Post [dateline: Nairobi], March 10, 2010)

Amidst this jumbled commentary, the threat is clear: if the fractured rebel movements do not immediately conclude a deal with Khartoum, with or without the participation of Darfuri civil society, then the US will be less committed to the resolution of Darfur’s vast crisis. No matter that Gration had himself foolishly and counter-productively guaranteed a peace agreement by the end of 2009; the US special envoy for Sudan, and the administration he represents, now have more pressing business and only limited “bandwidth” for Darfur.

Such a threat in the context of genocide is an obscenity, and perversely works to ratify the mendacious claims of President Omar al-Bashir and his ever-patient regime: “Now the crisis has finished in Darfur. Now the war is finished in Darfur.”

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and author of "A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide"

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