Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 26 March 2009

Khartoum’s Expulsion of Humanitarian Organizations (March 4, 2009)


What are the consequences of international failure to regain re-entry
for aid organizations providing over half the humanitarian capacity for
Darfur? Was the ICC arrest warrant for President al-Bashir the cause of
the expulsions? or the pretext? The consequences of the expulsion
order, and the threat to expel all aid organizations within a year,
demand a response: will it be more than rhetorical?

By Eric Reeves

March 25, 2009 — On March 4 and 5, 2009 the National Islamic Front/National Congress
(NIF) regime expelled thirteen of the world’s most distinguished
humanitarian organizations from Darfur and the rest of Northern Sudan.
The regime also shut down three of the most important Sudanese
nongovernmental humanitarian and human rights organizations, with very
significant capacity of their own. The expulsion and shutdown orders
followed immediately upon the announcement by the International Criminal
Court that it had issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, charging
him with crimes against humanity and war crimes. All signs point to an
extremely well planned response by the regime to a judicial decision
that was universally expected. (How many within the regime knew of this
brutal response is unclear, although considerable evidence suggests that
only an inner circle was involved in the actual decision-making

On top of the expulsions already announced, NIF President al-Bashir
declared on March 16 that his regime was determined to remove all
international humanitarian organizations from Sudan, north and south,
within a year. Predictably, despite the existence of a notional
“Government of National Unity” (GNU) in Khartoum, the NIF regime
did not consult the Southern Sudanese leadership or its representation
in the GNU about either decision. Since al-Bashir and his fellow
génocidaires have never committed any Sudanese resources to alleviate
acute human suffering and need in Southern Sudan, have never contributed
to Southern development, and refuse to implement key terms of the
north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it is nothing short of
outrageous that al-Bashir should promise to expel international aid,
recovery, and development organizations from the South. Indeed, the
threat of countrywide expulsions stands as a direct challenge to the
viability of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Estimates vary somewhat, but these expulsions and shutdowns reduce
overall humanitarian capacity in Darfur by over 50 percent. Other key
areas in Northern Sudan will also be badly affected, including Eastern
Sudan, the distressed populations outside Khartoum, and the contested
areas near the north/south border (Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and
Southern Blue Nile). The numbers of civilians affected is staggering
and needs considerable unpacking to be understood properly (see below).
The impact of the expulsions is already being felt, and will accelerate
rapidly in the coming weeks. Indeed, there are already multiple reports
from the ground in Darfur of significant problems in humanitarian
assistance, particularly water supplies in a number of camps and a
meningitis outbreak in Kalma camp and in camps near Niertiti in West
Darfur. Food distribution has also been compromised, and daily rations
are reportedly being reduced in some areas. A report to the UN Security
Council (March 20, 2009) by senior UN official Rashid Khalikov stressed
that “UN aid officials had observed ‘significant signs of an erosion
of humanitarian response capacity, with a concurrent impact on the lives
of people in Darfur’ since the 13 foreign and three domestic
[humanitarian nongovernmental organizations] were expelled” (Reuters
[dateline: UN/New York], March 20, 2009).

We can’t yet know how much further “erosion” humanitarian
operations will experience over the coming months, but stop-gap measures
now being put in place will certainly begin to collapse or prove
increasingly inadequate. For we do know, as has been repeatedly
stressed by UN and humanitarian officials, that there is simply no
replacement available for the accumulated Darfur-honed knowledge and
skills of the expelled organizations. Following an extensive assessment
in Darfur, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John
Holmes yesterday (March 24, 2009) offered a blunt assessment of the
stop-gap measures Khartoum has so far offered:

"‘These are band-aid solutions, not long-term solutions,’ [Holmes]
told a news conference on the results of an assessment of the situation
in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region carried out jointly by the United
Nations and the Sudanese government.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New
York], March 24, 2009)

The results of the “joint assessment” have not been made publicly,
but humanitarian workers are already speaking out:

“The humanitarian situation in Darfur is growing more precarious by
the day following the expulsion of major aid agencies and a call from
the main rebel group for displaced people to refuse any government
assistance, NGO officials warned today. The results of the joint
UN-government mission to assess the gap in aid provision has not yet
been published, but humanitarian workers say the supply of medicine,
clean water and food has already been significantly affected, and could
worsen in coming weeks.” (The Guardian [dateline: Nairobi], March 24,

Yet again in Darfur, with a ghastly familiarity, hundreds of thousands
of lives are in the balance. But whereas in the past heroic efforts on
the part of the world’s largest humanitarian operation have staved off
mass starvation and widespread epidemics, there is now only a highly
compromised operation that may be yet further reduced by additional
near-term expulsions or by intolerable insecurity.

Certainly other humanitarian organizations not affected by the
expulsion orders will leave for security reasons (several already have).
Four workers for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
were kidnapped on March 12 and held for several days. The kidnappings
occurred in regime-controlled territory, near camps for the notorious
Janjaweed. Although the four were released unharmed, there is every
reason to believe that this unprecedented event was a message
orchestrated by Khartoum’s security forces (previous kidnappings of
international workers, though completely unacceptable, were short-term
affairs, designed to gain vehicles, humanitarian supplies, or
communications gear).

One senior Western official in Khartoum strongly believes the regime is
responsible for these kidnappings, as does (timidly) UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (see
http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article30489). The motive
for the kidnappings could not be clearer: to create a sense of
intolerable insecurity that will compel organizations to leave Darfur.
And this was precisely the effect on the three remaining national
sections of MSF (Belgium, Switzerland, Spain): they have all now
withdrawn. With the withdrawal and expulsion of all five national
sections of MSF (France and Holland were expelled), primary and
secondary medical care has been drastically reduced---to a much greater
degree than humanitarian capacity generally.

While there has been an immediate and instinctive effort to blame the
ICC for what has occurred in Darfur, and throughout Sudan, this ignores
too much recent history. Indeed, the March 16 announcement that all
organizations would be expelled from all of Sudan within a year is not
separate from, but continuous with the expulsions of March 4-5. Senior
officials within the Khartoum regime have long had as their goal the
removal of international humanitarian organizations, and the decision to
expel thirteen of the largest and most effective organizations was
certainly in service of this goal. In short, the ICC arrest warrant for
al-Bashir was more pretext than cause of the expulsions. As one Darfur
aid official put it:

“‘This was in the works for a long time, one senior aid official
involved in Darfur relief said. ‘They [the Khartoum regime] had been
waiting for a chance to strike out at these organizations.’” (New
York Times [dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], March 22, 2009)

The later threat to remove all international humanitarian organizations
within a year, and convert aid operations to an entirely Sudanese
affair, offers compelling evidence for this view. The motives for a
thoroughgoing purge are not difficult to discern, even as Khartoum has
neither the capacity nor the inclination to replace international
assistance, despite al-Bashir’s rhetorically extravagant claims. One
of the most disturbing motives for the regime’s actions is the desire
to shut down the camps and force inhabitants to return to their homes
and lands, even if security is non-existent and the destruction of
homes, water resources, agricultural tools, and other means of
livelihood was total. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
reports (March 10, 2009) on yet another propaganda statement to this

“Sudanese [state-controlled] media have called for the closure of the
camps. ‘We urge … the concerned authorities to start seriously working
out a plan to enable IDPs to return to their villages and dismantling
the camps,’ the Sudan Vision newspaper said in an editorial on 10
March.” (Dateline Khartoum)

This campaign goes back to efforts by former Minister of the Interior
(and present Minister of Defense) Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein in
2004---in other words at the very height of the violence. The camps are
an international embarrassment and the reason that Darfur has become the
site of what was the world’s largest humanitarian operation, with more
than 13,000 aid workers, over 90 percent of them Sudanese. And aid
workers have been able to shed continuous light on the horrific
suffering and destruction to which they’ve borne witness. The
expulsions have as a primary motive the regime’s desire to remove the
eyes of the world from Darfur, and considerable success has now been
achieved. As one aid worker put the matter (and all now request
anonymity), “We’re very concerned that the witness effect that these
organisations have on the ground will also disappear” (Reuters, March
5, 2009).

[Just today Abu Zor camp, near the West Darfur capital of el-Geneina,
was set afire, almost certainly by Khartoum’s militia forces. Some
600 dwellings were reported destroyed in this camp of more than 12,000,
and at least two people were killed. (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum],
March 25, 2009)]


There is already abundant evidence that humanitarian conditions in some
locations are deteriorating rapidly, especially water, sanitation, and
primary medical care. A March 13 “situation report” from the UN
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs lays out some of the
most authoritative quantitative measures of the impact humanitarian
expulsions are having (and this is only for Darfur, not other parts of
northern Sudan that had been served by the expelled organizations):

[1] “The expulsion of CARE, Save the Children US, Action Contre la
Faim, and Solidarités threatens the distribution of food aid to 1.1
million people. With the loss of all MSF [Doctors Without
Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres] chapters, an estimated 7,000 children
who are, or will become, moderately or severely malnourished, risk not
being treated. Access to targeted feeding programmes in the most
vulnerable remote rural areas and IDP camps has been decreased
significantly, thus increasing risk of mortality.”

“The interruption of the General Food Distribution threatens the
well-being of vulnerable families. This programme ordinarily provides
preventive support, without which increased malnutrition will set in.
Those who become malnourished will need to be treated with a reduced
nutrition infrastructure.”

[2] “The expulsion of the NGOs is estimated to affect health service
delivery for up to 1.5 million people in Darfur. Basic provision of
healthcare services, early warning, and sentinel surveillance systems
relied heavily on the presence of the now expelled NGOs in a number of
areas, including camps.”

“The meningitis outbreak at the Kalma camp in South Darfur is a
growing concern. 41 suspected cases have been reported. Nine cases of
suspected meningitis have also been confirmed by the HAC [Humanitarian
Aid Commission] commissioner for Nertiti, West Darfur. Three tests were
positive. Some areas close to Nertiti are not accessible to HAC, and
there is a high probability that there are more cases. Because of the
expulsions, there is no direct access to health care, as MSF was the
only medical actor in the area.”

[3] “With the rainy season approaching, replenishment of key items
such as basic household items and kitchen supplies [as well as emergency
shelters---ER] to the population is essential. Most distribution must
take place in one month for 700,000 people. Of the 16 NGOs that were
expelled, 11 were logistics and emergency shelter sector partners.”

[4] “Access to adequate amounts of safe drinking water for some 1.16
million people is not assured. UNICEF estimates that only 30 to 35
percent of needs may be addressed in the coming weeks. UNICEF can deploy
some staff to support in the initial 1-2 weeks, with Government
cooperation. Sanitation and hygiene services have been compromised and
chlorination services interrupted in many areas. Basic maintenance of
structures is imperative. Trained community members could perform some
of these tasks, if facilitated with the necessary equipment and

“If not addressed efficiently and in a timely manner, there is an
increased risk of outbreaks of hygiene-preventable illnesses, like
diarrhea and cholera. Many remaining facilities such as health and
feeding centers relied on water services provided by the now expelled
NGOs. Re-supply of water services to such facilities is essential.”

These snapshots only begin to convey how comprehensively destructive of
humanitarian efforts the expulsions are and will become.

In addition to expelling these key humanitarian organizations, Khartoum
has engaged in a ruthless process of asset stripping, taking from the
departing organizations critical equipment:

“Crucial humanitarian assets belonging to the United Nations and NGOs
have been confiscated from the expelled humanitarian organizations,
including computers, vehicles, and communications equipment.”
(“Situation Report,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, March 13, 2009)

“‘Despite assurances given by the Sudanese Government that
harassment and seizure of assets would stop, such reports continued to
be received daily,’ [UN Spokeswoman Marie] Okabe said, citing a report
from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Assets confiscated from the organizations include computers, vehicles
and communications equipment, as well as essential data, she said.”
(UN News Center, March 10, 2009)

“[UN humanitarian chief John] Holmes added that UN and NGO staff have
faced harassment at the hands of Sudanese security forces, including
‘intimidatory behavior.’ He added that UN officials had
complained about this to the government. ‘Assets of international NGOs
have been confiscated, including in some cases United Nations assets I
have to say, things like vehicles and computers, vital data for
assistance to beneficiaries, ... food and non-food items,’ he said.
Holmes said there were one or two warehouses containing World Food
Program food seized by local authorities, which he hoped would be
returned.” (Reuters [dateline: UN], March 9, 2009)

Additionally, armed elements accorded impunity by the Khartoum regime
have raided a warehouse of one of the expelled organizations.
Associated Press reports from al-Salaam Camp (near el-Fasher, North

“Refugee camp leaders in Darfur say a dozen men broke into the
warehouse of an expelled British aid group, stealing all its contents.
Camp leader Adam Mahmoud told Darfur peacekeepers that armed men stormed
the site early Saturday, driving off the guards with gunfire. Another
leader, Ismail Braima, said the men stole cement sacks and water pipes.
The area where the Oxfam-UK center once stood has been emptied of all
its contents. This is believed to be the first such looting of an aid
group’s material since the government expelled Oxfam and 12 foreign aid
groups on March 4.” ([dateline: al-Salam Camp, North Darfur], March
21, 2009)

Unfortunately, we may be sure that this will not be the last warehouse
raided and that humanitarian assets will continue to be stripped.


With predictable mendacity, Khartoum claims that the crisis in Darfur
is being overstated by the UN and Western nations, and that the regime
is capable of filling whatever “gaps” have been left by the thirteen
international aid organizations (again, representing over half the total
humanitarian capacity). The promise is that over the next year all aid
operations can be “Sudanized.”

This is of course not the view from the ground:

“‘We are increasingly concerned at the situation,’ said one aid
worker in Darfur, who requested anonymity. ‘There is a massive
humanitarian gap left by the NGO expulsion. Hungry people are desperate
people.’” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline:
Juba], March 23, 2009)

"‘The humanitarian operation was just destroyed’ said an individual
associated with the aid effort. ‘There isn’t a humanitarian
operation at this point; there is a remainder that will try to cover,
but those who were removed were fundamental to everything.’” (Sudan
Tribune, March 7, 2009)

A BBC dispatch (March 23, 2009) reports:

“The United Nations says emergency measures put in place following
the expulsion of aid agencies from Sudan’s [Darfur region] cannot last
more than a few weeks…. In some camps more than two months’ worth of
food has been distributed, but without the complex monitoring to ensure
that it goes to those most in need. The difficult process of
therapeutic feeding of the worst nourished children is also not taking

The lack of therapeutic feeding is costing lives even now, as is the
loss of primary and emergency medical care. A New York Times dispatch
from Nyala reports:

“Feeding centers for malnourished children were already seeing
hundreds of patients a week, and those numbers normally quadruple in the
lean season before the harvest. Without organizations that run the
specialized clinics that feed underweight and malnourished children with
fortified porridge, more children will surely die, aid workers in Darfur
said.” ([dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], March 22, 2009)

The Times’ dispatch began with an individual narrative that will be
repeated countless times, throughout Darfur, in the coming days and

“On Friday [March 20, 2009], Haider Ismael al-Amin lay in his
mother’s arms, his 10-year-old body withered and weak from
dehydration after a night of vomiting. But the door to the clinic was
locked. After 30 minutes of waiting, his family gave up. ‘The white
people used to come every day,’ said Hawa Hamal Mohammed, a relative
of the boy. ‘Now the clinic is closed.’ The American aid group that
operated the clinic, the International Rescue Committee, was one of more
than a dozen aid groups expelled from Darfur this month by President
Omar Hassan al-Bashir.”

It is also likely that Khartoum’s actions will further diminish
capacity, making the gaps in aid coverage even larger:

“By expelling so many aid workers…and accusing them of being spies,
experts say the Sudanese government has created a negative environment
for the aid groups in hopes they will eventually be forced out. ‘It is
a signal that the field is open for confrontation,’ which encouraged
the kidnapping, said Fouad Hikmat, a Sudan expert with the International
Crisis Group. ‘You create a push factor’ to drive away the remaining
[aid] groups.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], March 15,

Yet another factor contributing to the attenuation of humanitarian
services is the severe limitation in protection afforded by UNAMID in
the present tenuous security environment:

“[Speaking anonymously] an officer the UN-African Union peacekeeping
mission said they have advised aid groups to centralize operations in
secure cities.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], March 15,

This is hugely restrictive and ensures that more remote camps and
towns, as well as rural populations, will suffer disproportionately from
the lack of aid. The Associated Press dispatch continues:

“[Such] security considerations would mean scaling back in the remote
areas of Darfur where nearly half of the 4.7 million people receiving
aid reside. The aid group expulsion has already left a number of refugee
camps without a single aid group to provide services.”

This bears repeating: “The aid group expulsion has already left a
number of refugee camps without a single aid group to provide

A dramatic centralization is also demoralizing to the aid workers
remaining, who now realize how limited their assistance can be:

"‘We are now in the business of surviving,’ said one aid worker
speaking from Darfur. ‘It is hard to get much work done in this
environment.’ Already, some refugee camp residents are reporting
deteriorating water services and the spread of infectious diseases. UN
officials say the capacity of existing aid groups is not enough to fill
the gap created by the departing groups.”

Despite its claims, Khartoum has neither the resources, the skilled
workers, nor the commitment to provide humanitarian assistance of the
quality and quantity previously provided by international organizations.
In particular the organizations Khartoum plans to deploy will lack
access to the populations in need, access based on a trust that has been
built up over years by the expelled organizations. The UN Integrated
Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reports the view from the ground:

“Aid workers [say] many organisations put forward [by Khartoum] as
replacements [for expelled organizations] were closely allied to the
government, raising issues of independence and accountability were they
to act as partners for foreign aid. ‘It is not a question of simply
handing out food; it will not reach the most vulnerable [and] can be
manipulated to target select groups or cut out those who are not
favoured,’ one aid worker said. ‘There must be a system of
accountability; if not, donors will soon dry up.’”

“Aid workers in Khartoum warned that the camps in Darfur would reach
crisis point ‘within a few weeks, perhaps even a fortnight,’ unless
aid work resumed. ‘First the water supplies will go, without the
technicians to repair [them]; then there will be problems with food
supplies, then healthcare,’ said one.” (IRIN [dateline: Khartoum],
March 10, 2009)

Moreover, the distrust and hatred of Khartoum’s génocidaires is so
great that some Darfuris are refusing to accept any aid from the regime.
This is most dramatically in evidence in the huge Kalma camp, near
Nyala---“home” to some 90,000 displaced persons---and in Kass camps
(near the town of Kass, also in South Darfur):

“Aid officials and activists said residents of South Darfur’s huge
Kalma and Kass camps were refusing aid from state-backed organisations,
even though they were running short of medicines, food aid and clean
water. Hussein Abu Sharati, who says he represents displaced Darfuris
in 158 camps, said Kalma residents had met and voted to refuse all aid
from Sudanese groups. ‘They don’t see these groups as aid
organisations, they see them as tools of the government,’ he told
Reuters by satellite phone.”

"‘IDPs (internally displaced people) in Kalma and Kass are refusing
all access to the government and local aid groups even if it means
receiving less water or a greater risk of disease,’ said an aid worker
from one of the ousted organisations, speaking on condition of
anonymity. The worker said residents had blocked state deliveries of
fuel for their own generators, set up to pump fresh water in to the
camp, raising the risk of the spread of diseases like cholera. Camp
leaders had refused to let Ministry of Health officials vaccinate
residents against a meningitis outbreak.” (Reuters [dateline:
Khartoum], March 19, 2009)

This is the face of an anger that is too little appreciated by those
outside Darfur, and represents a determination that will soon very
likely be channeled into military outlets. Young men in the camps will
have less and less hesitancy about leaving to join the rebel movements,
as the region lurches closer to war. The Justice and Equality Movement,
which had begun to negotiate with Khartoum in Qatar, has declared there
will be no further talks until the aid organizations are allowed to
return. In the absence of return, we may expect even more aggressive
military moves by JEM, likely better coordinated with the SLA Darfuri
rebel factions. This in turn is likely to increase insecurity
dramatically for remaining humanitarian organizations, producing yet
further large-scale withdrawals.


We are destined to hear many times in the coming weeks and months that
water shortages are on the increase, which in turn greatly increases the
risk of disease. The day after the expulsions (March 5, 2009), Reuters

“The big international agencies providing water to Kass camp in the
south and Zalingei in the west have also been given their marching
orders. The International Rescue Committee says each camp is home to
100,000 people. ‘The water is going to become an issue sooner rather
than later without anyone to fill that gap, and that’s very concerning
for all of us in the international community, and it really should be of
grave concern to the Sudanese government,’ [said Kurt] Tjossem, [IRC’s
Regional Director for Horn and East Africa].”

The Guardian reports in the same vein:

“‘What has happened [with the expulsions of humanitarian
organizations] has gone far beyond our worst expectations,’ said Kurt
Tjossem, regional director for International Rescue Committee, which
provides health and water services to 650,000 people in Darfur. ‘It’s
chaos. We looked for other organisations to hand over our projects to
but they have also been kicked out.’ In Kass, for example, where
there are 100,000 displaced people, all four agencies providing water
services have been expelled.” ([dateline: Nairobi], March 5, 2009)

Zam Zam camp, near el-Fasher in North Darfur, poses particular problems
because of a massive influx of displaced persons from Muhajeria (South
Darfur), where a brutal military assault by the regime in early February
forced tens of thousands to flee. Most went to Zam Zam, which is now

“The situation in some areas of Darfur, say aid workers, is
deteriorating. Zam Zam camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in
North Darfur, for example, faces an acute crisis if urgent measures are
not taken, the US embassy in Khartoum warned in a statement. The camp
has received some 36,000 new arrivals fleeing fighting in South Darfur.
‘There is a growing water shortage due to the demand created by recent
IDP arrivals and the lack of available water resources at the camp,’
an embassy spokesman said. ‘In addition, the influx of new IDPs has
created a need for more land to accommodate the overflow.’” (UN
IRIN [dateline: Juba, South Sudan], March 23, 2009)

More broadly, the engineering expertise in water and sanitation has
been largely lost with the expulsions:

"‘There are no NGOs’---nongovernmental organizations---‘with the
capacity to [replace the lost expertise],’ said David Clatworthy, a
water and sanitation coordinator in Darfur for the International Rescue
Committee, a US-based group that also was expelled. Clatworthy helped
run projects in three sites in Darfur, pumping some 1.5 million gallons
of drinking water daily into camps that house 167,000 displaced people.
When diesel fuel for the pumps runs out and the water taps need
replacing---250 taps wear out every month from overuse---no one will be
around to do it, he fears.” (McClatchy Newspapers [dateline: Nairobi],
March 11, 2009)

These are the critical engineering challenges to maintaining the
diesel-powered boreholes that provide the vast majority of water inside
the camps. Loss of a consistent supply of fuel, or chlorination by
trained personnel, or lack of repair abilities will result in water
shortages leading to dehydration and the consumption of untreated water.
In overcrowded camps, the chances for the spread of water-borne disease
will skyrocket, especially as the rainy season approaches. Fears of
cholera epidemics exploding out of the camps are reported in virtually
all accounts of the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Hygiene is also deteriorating, as assessed by a range of metrics. Less
than half the soap required on a monthly basis is being distributed in a
number of locations. Latrine maintenance is already starting to
deteriorate, with extremely serious health implications. Sanitation and
waste disposal are essential to avoid epidemics, and this is already
slipping badly (especially near Kass, with its constraining geographical

Kits of shelter materials were to have been distributed by several of
the expelled aid organizations to some 700,000 households before the
rainy season (June through September): to provide protection against the
fierce rains, as a barrier against malaria-bearing mosquitoes, and to
give warmth on cold nights. The UN Joint Logistics Center is prepared
to distribute fewer than 40,000.


The UN World Food Program (WFP), with the critical assistance of its
enabling INGO partners, was able to reach as many as 3 million people in
need during the last hunger gap (which begins before the rainy season
and ends only with the first fall harvests). In the wake of
Khartoum’s expelling of these organizations, there will be no way
that this figure can be approached during the impending hunger gap. The
UN News Center (March 10, 2009) reports:

“The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, says that four of the
expelled non-governmental organizations were crucial partners who were
providing 35 per cent of its food distribution capacity in Darfur,
distributing food to 1.1 million people plus 5,500 malnourished children
and mothers receiving supplementary feeding….” [MSF, all five
national branches of which have been expelled or withdrawn, provided
even more aid to malnourished children—ER]

Indeed, food distribution is already failing in serious ways. In
assessing the impact of diminished food distributions, the World Food
Program expresses the fear that, “the departure of these NGOs will
leave a huge gap in humanitarian access and may result in further chaos
in the form of riots and population movement as poor groups move to
other areas in search of humanitarian aid” (WFP Press release, March
11, 2009). The threat of violence and population migrations has not
received nearly enough attention, given its destabilizing potential. As
one aid worker in Darfur remarked (again on condition of anonymity, for
fear of expulsion), "‘We are increasingly concerned at the situation.
There is a massive humanitarian gap left by the NGO expulsion. Hungry
people are desperate people.’"

Given this desperation, it is impossible to predict how many Darfuris
will cross the border into Chad, where humanitarian capacity will seem
comparatively greater and more stable. Aid organizations operating in
Eastern Chad are presently engaged in contingency planning for an influx
as great as 200,000---this in addition to the more than 250,000 Darfuri
refugees already in Chad. Moreover, these new refugees will likely move
sooner rather than later:

“If the absence of [humanitarian] services does force Darfuris over
the border, ‘they will likely go soon, before the rainy season makes
travel far more
difficult,’ CARE, one of the expelled agencies, recently warned.”
(UN IRIN [dateline: Cairo], March 20, 2009)

Even more threatening, in terms of competition for scarce food, will be
a migration from southern South Darfur into the Bahr el-Ghazal province
of Southern Sudan. An alarming report by the Famine Early Warning
System Network (FEWS Net) notes first the already grim food security
situation in Southern Sudan, and goes on to declare:

“The potential movement of 1.5 million displaced Darfur residents
into southern Sudan’s Northern and Western Bahr El Gazal states, due to
disruptions in humanitarian assistance, presents a severe threat to food
security in the two states.” (March 20, 2009)

More than “severe,” the threat is potentially explosive, with a
high probability of violence that might make aid distribution even more
difficult for both the indigenous and migrating populations. Famine is
no stranger to Bahr el-Ghazal, and the danger presented by mass
migration southward from Darfur needs to be anticipated in all possible

The FEWS report also notes:

"Though the number of potential IDPs is unclear, even small inflows
could have a severe impact on food security in localised areas."

In this context the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks notes:

“250,000 people in Northern and Western Bahr el Gazal were already
moderately food-insecure; peak food shortages typically occur between
April and August. A large IDP population could quickly exhaust existing
resources, while a significant inflow could make Northern and Western
Bahr el Gazal highly or extremely food-insecure.” ([dateline: Juba],
March 23, 2009)

Yet another critical gap in overall humanitarian food operations will
occur with the collapse of efforts to preposition adequate food supplies
prior to the rainy season, during which overland transport to many
locations is physically impossible. Some 2 million people will be
beyond reach. While access may be secured for the major hubs (Nyala,
el-Fasher, and el-Geneina), more remote sites will see a dramatic fall
off, even as current food distributions (formerly conducted in many
cases by expelled INGOs) have begun to be compromised, which will soon
lead to increasing malnutrition---this prior to the actual start of the
annual “hunger gap.”


A March 10, 2009 dispatch from the UN News Center reported:

“The World Health Organization (WHO) warned [that in the wake of the
humanitarian expulsions] more than 1.5 million persons would no longer
have access to primary healthcare, and that immunizations would be
disrupted, with the greatest threat being an outbreak of meningitis
reported in the Kalma Camp that currently houses 89,000 people.”

Meningitis is indeed currently the most revealing health crisis in
Darfur, affecting not only Kalma camp but those near Niertiti as well.
The populations in and around Kalma have in the main not been vaccinated
against meningitis (the vaccine is effective for three years), a problem
that was to have been addressed by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF), with a vaccination campaign scheduled to have begun
two days after the expulsion order. Now, there is no one to administer
the vaccination program, and regime officials attempting to enter Kalma
are being denied. This is not simply stubborn defiance, as Africa
Confidential notes in its most recent issue:

“Khartoum said ‘more than 2,000’ local aid agencies were waiting
in the wings to take over the NGOs’ work. Internally displaced people
in some camps were soon refusing help from the newcomers. They know that
the regime, which drove them into camps in the first place, has always
used some ‘charities’ as front organisations for security operations
and also for missionary work. The NIF already used ‘aid workers’ for
these ends during Darfur’s 1983-85 famine, long before it came to
power, and after its 1989 coup in the South [Sudan] and Nuba Mountain
war zones.” (Africa Confidential, March 20, 2009, Vo. 50, No. 6)

The Associated Press reports from the highly distressed Zam Zam camp
(March 21, 2009) another telling reason that Darfuris in the camps
distrust Khartoum and its “aid agencies”:

“Many refugees deeply distrust government aid and suspect that
Khartoum just wants to drive them out of the camps.”

And in fact senior regime officials have made numerous public
statements since 2004 about shutting down the camps and forcing people
to returning to their “homes,” whether they exist or not, whether
adequate security obtains or doesn’t.

If meningitis is the current health crisis, the future looks even
bleaker. As malnutrition deepens, as clean water becomes increasingly
scarce, and without remotely adequate primary health care, all diseases
will become life-threatening. Cholera, dysentery, and malaria will be
the big killers, but the halting of vaccination programs for childhood
diseases (including measles and polio) will take its toll as well. It
is important to remember that the UN operates at Security Level IV in
Darfur (Security Level V entails emergency evacuations). As a
consequence, UN agencies such as the World Health Organization cannot
travel to many of the locations served by the expelled humanitarian
organizations, which have often been the only health providers in more
remote regions. These people will be completely defenseless against
disease. Malnourished, lacking in clean water, and without medical
resources, Darfuris will die in catastrophic numbers.


Khartoum’s expulsion order affects the work of those organizations
working not only in Darfur but other highly distressed regions of the
country: Eastern Sudan, with malnutrition and morbidity indexes that are
as great as those in Darfur; Southern Blue Nile, one of the least
developed areas in Sudan; Southern Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains, a
region of serious confrontation between African and Arab ethnic groups,
and a potential flash point for renewed north/south war; and the Abyei
enclave, on the north/south border---another flash point for renewed
war. We have no substantial data or reporting on the consequences of
humanitarian expulsions for these areas, but over 1 million people are
affected by Khartoum’s supremely callous actions. Many of these
innocent civilians will also die because of a decision made by a few men
who have never even traveled to the regions they are putting in such
desperate danger.

Reuters reported on March 6, 2009 (dateline: Khartoum) that:

“Senior humanitarian officials said the expulsions had left large
areas of the highly-charged regions of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue
Nile, along Sudan’s contested north-south border, without any
humanitarian cover.”

Save the Children/USA and Save the Children/UK were among the
organizations expelled, and the international secretary general of the
aid groups was explicit about consequences:

“Save the Children---which also had its UK arm shut down this
week---said the decision would have a serious impact on its work in
Southern Kordofan, Abyei and other areas of Sudan, including west
Darfur. ‘If we are forced to stop our work the lives of hundreds of
thousands of children could be at risk,’ the organisations’
international secretary general Charlotte Petri said in a statement.”
(Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 6, 2009)

And Britain’s Oxfam declared that, “Its programmes, that covered
water, hygiene, schooling and other areas in Darfur and underdeveloped
eastern Sudan, would collapse within weeks if it was not allowed to
return.” (Additionally, many hundreds of thousands of Darfuri
children who were enrolled in school, with no other constructive
activities available, have lost that precious opportunity with
humanitarian expulsions.)

Nor should we forget the work of the distinguished Sudanese
humanitarian and human rights organizations that were shut down as the
international organizations were being expelled: SUDO (the Sudan Social
Development Organization), the Amal Center for Rehabilitation of Victims
of Violence, and the Khartoum Center for Human Rights Development and
Environment. These organizations served hundreds of thousands of
Sudanese throughout the country. SUDO says in its letter of
dissolution, on the occasion of being shut down by Khartoum:

“SUDO is the biggest national organization undertaking humanitarian
and development assistance to the most needy and most vulnerable
Sudanese people through 10 field offices in North, South and West
Darfur, South Kordofan, Nuba mountains, North Kordofan, Blue Nile and
Khartoum. Our current operations provide urgent and life saving
assistance to over 700,000 IDPs and poor farmers in different parts of
the country, especially Darfur. Our work is and has always been purely
humanitarian and is mostly needed at this time of our country.”

These organizations and their importance to Sudan have been largely
overlooked, even as Sudan can never thrive if it remains dependent upon
international organizations for humanitarian and development assistance.
Of course this certainly doesn’t bear on the present moment of urgent
need; it does remind us that international organizations should have
been doing more to “Sudanize” their operations: the alternative now
is the brutal “Sudanizing” contemplated by al-Bashir and the
National Islamic Front regime.


Despite the massive crisis precipitated by Khartoum’s humanitarian
expulsions and shutdowns, the regime remains defiant, adamantly
declaring again and again that its decision is “irrevocable.” This
has been the unchanging rhetorical tune from the beginning of the
crisis, and there are no signs of a bending of the regime’s political
will. On the other hand, Khartoum’s unqualified “irrevocable” is
matched by declarations from the Obama administration, the UN
Secretariat, and the Europeans that these expulsions are “not
acceptable.” President Obama used the phrase early on in the crisis:

“‘I impressed upon the [UN] secretary general how important it is
from our perspective to send a strong unified international message that
it is not acceptable to put that many people’s lives at risk, that we
need to be able to get those humanitarian organizations back on the
ground,’ Obama said.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York],
March 11, 2009)

Almost two weeks later, and three weeks after the expulsions---with a
significant loss of life, increasing morbidity, and a continuing
deterioration of humanitarian infrastructure---“irrevocable” seems
to trump “not acceptable.” Certainly Obama did not use the
opportunity presented by his March 24 news conference to find a way to
reiterate his declaration that humanitarian expulsions from Darfur are
“not acceptable.” This comes at the very moment that
humanitarian organizations, diplomats, UN officials, and Sudanese
political observers indicate that the regime has no intention of
reversing its decision, but rather is fully committed to the obscene
notion that it can “fill the gaps” left after the expulsion of aid
groups, this by the vaguely outlined and utterly implausible
“Sudanizing” of efforts in Darfur (though no mention is made of
the other regions in Sudan severely affected by the expulsions). It is
worth rehearsing the roster of proposals and claims with which Khartoum
seeks to defend the expulsions, if only to see how brazenly the regime
feels it may spit in the face of the international community.

"‘We will be able to pay for [these humanitarian programs] from our
own pockets,’ Bashir said during a recent speech in Darfur. ‘When
this started years ago, it was only the government that was helping the
refugees. We have enough food. We can cover their needs.’” (Los
Angeles Times [dateline: Zam Zam camp, North Darfur], March 17, 2009)

For a more reliable historical touchstone, here are the words of Tom
Vraalsen, UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs, in the first year
of the genocide:

"‘Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is
hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase
emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum’s] authorities claim unimpeded
access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control,
while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.’” (Ambassador
Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; "Sudan:
Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur," December 8, 2003)

Such obstruction and systematic denial of aid has continued
relentlessly for over five years, and has been amply documented in
numerous human rights reports. Moreover, Khartoum has provided
negligible aid assistance of its own, to Darfur or to any of the areas
affected by expulsions of INGOs. The grossly misnamed “Humanitarian
Affairs Commission” (HAC) is universally reported by humanitarian
organizations to have been an instrument of obstruction and harassment,
ultimately doing the bidding of Khartoum’s security forces. Indeed,
HAC has---through bureaucratic delays, countless work and travel
restrictions, capricious demands, and deliberate intimidation of
workers---compromised humanitarian capacity in Darfur by perhaps 10
percent according to one major aid organization.

And what of the present? What will Khartoum be providing? Judging by
the past, it will certainly not be food. To date in the conflict the
regime has contributed a negligible amount of grain, and what has been
given was infested with maggots. Instead, grain and other staples must
be brought from abroad to Port Sudan, and then transported to Khartoum
and on to Darfur. And even here there has been obstruction from the
beginning of the crisis; in November 2003, as humanitarian needs were
growing, I noted:

“Khartoum has refused to accept food aid from the US Agency for
International Development (USAID) on completely spurious grounds.
Claiming that US sorghum and wheat are genetically modified, the
Khartoum regime denied entrance at Port Sudan to a critical food
shipment. But as Khartoum well knows, the US does not export or even
grow genetically modified sorghum or wheat. Some strains of other grains
have been genetically modified---but not these two key staples.
Extraordinarily, this was reported in Khartoum by Kamal al Sadig in

“‘In a new development on the USAID confined food crisis, the
Ministry of Agriculture has reaffirmed refusal to allow entrance of the
food into the country and distributing it, claiming that the food is
genetically modified.’” (Al-Ayam, November 16, 2003; issue no 7825)

When it was not busy obstructing food deliveries---and too often
medical supplies---Khartoum has shamefully engaged in lucrative food
exports, even as its own people are malnourished, in Darfur and
elsewhere, living on a diet below the UN kilocalorie minimum. In August
of 2008, New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman filed from Ed
Damer (north of Khartoum) a remarkable dispatch highlighting just how
perverse national agricultural policy is under the regime. Noting that
Sudan “receives a billion pounds of free food from international [aid]
donors, [even as it] is growing and selling vast quantities of its own
crops to other countries,” Gettleman asks, “why is a country that
exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anywhere
else in the world, especially when the Sudanese government is blamed for
creating the crisis [in Darfur] in the first place?” An excellent
question, which the international community refuses to ask with
sufficient resolve, particularly given present humanitarian conditions
throughout Sudan.

The details of this ghastly perversion of priorities are revealing of
how ruthlessly the regime has arrogated to itself all opportunities for
significant economic gain:

“[Sudan] is already growing wheat for Saudi Arabia, sorghum for
camels in the United Arab Emirates and vine-ripened tomatoes for the
Jordanian Army. Now the government is plowing $5 billion into new
agribusiness projects, many of them to produce food for export.”

“Take sorghum, a staple of the Sudanese diet, typically eaten in
flat, spongy bread. Last year, the United States government, as part of
its response to the emergency in Darfur, shipped in 283,000 tons of
sorghum, at high cost, from as far away as Houston. Oddly enough, that
is about the same amount that Sudan exported, according to United
Nations officials. This year, Sudanese companies, including many that
are linked to the government in Khartoum, are on track to ship out twice
that amount, even as the United Nations is being forced to cut rations
to Darfur.”
(August 10, 2008 at

Is it conceivable that with such grossly distorted priorities Khartoum
will suddenly become beneficent with its own people? A report from the
Los Angeles Times suggests not:

“It’s unclear whether any additional funds have been allocated to the
region [by Khartoum]. Many Sudanese aid workers are skeptical of their
own capacity. ‘We can’t do it without more money and more people,’
said Khalil Sammani, spokesman for the Sudanese Red Crescent Society. So
far, Sammani said, his agency has received neither. About 90 percent of
the group’s funding comes from European countries and the United
Nations. It gets nothing from the Sudanese government, he said.”
([dateline: Zam Zam camp, North Darfur], March 17, 2009)

“Nothing” from the Khartoum regime---and without oversight, funding
from Western donor countries and the UN will likely diminish.
Continuing UN support is certainly not encouraged by the fact that
Khartoum’s security forces confiscated, sometimes violently, a great
many UN resources (this in the process of stripping all assets from the
expelled nongovernmental humanitarian organizations).

Khartoum’s real effort has not been to fund humanitarian operations
but rather to denigrate the generosity of aid organizations and their
private donors (often referred to as “Zionists,” whose only motive
is to support spying efforts in Darfur). On March 7 al-Bashir,
“described the expelled aid agencies as ‘thieves’ who take
‘99 percent of the budget for humanitarian work themselves, giving
the people of Darfur 1 percent’” (UN IRIN [dateline: Khartoum],
March 10, 2009).

How can we take seriously any commitment coming from a regime willing
to lie so preposterously, so conspicuously, so carelessly? Is such a
statement not an implicit confession that al-Bashir and his cabal simply
don’t care about either the truth or humanitarian realities? Even the
cobbled together plan to “replace” expelled organizations has
changed dramatically since the expulsions were originally announced. At
first it was to be Sudanese national nongovernmental organizations
(NNGOs) that were to fill the massive gaps in the sectors of water,
food, medical care, sanitation and hygiene. The regime went so far as
to claim “2,000” NNGOs were at the ready. Now the regime has
switched gears, giving the lead to various ministries and governmental
institutions. This means that the Ministry of Health, the State Water
Corporation, and the Office of Water, Environment & Sanitation will be
undertaking immense and critical tasks for which they have neither the
resources nor the delivery capacity. Most significantly, as government
organs they will be rejected by huge numbers of Darfuris.

This lurching from one strategy to another, with 4.7 million lives on
the line, is all too revealing of the callousness of the National
Islamic Front regime.


The ostensible reason for the expulsion of international humanitarian
organizations was their cooperation with the ICC, hence the coordination
of the expulsions and the ICC announcement of a warrant for al-Bashir,
charging him with crimes against humanity and war crimes. In yet
another preposterous assertion, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Mutrif
Siddig “told the state SUNA news agency that the aid groups’
cooperation with the ICC had been ‘proved by evidence’” (Reuters
[dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], March 7, 2009).

Of course not a shred of this evidence has been produced publicly---for
the simple reason it does not exist. But this is hardly a concern of
the NIF regime, an inexhaustible font of mendacity.

Lies simply don’t matter if your enterprise is blackmail, and that is
precisely what Khartoum is attempting with the international community:
“don’t push us further on the ICC arrest warrant or we will further
compromise aid efforts; don’t contemplate military action or we will
engage in brutal reprisals against humanitarians, whom we will declare
to be spies.” It is not accidental that Khartoum’s plan---long in
the making---was to expel “only” about half the humanitarian
capacity in Darfur: the other half is to continue as a collective
hostage---allowed to perform humanitarian tasks on a highly restricted
basis, compromised by the expulsions, and working in an environment
increasingly insecure and paralyzing. But still this represents a
significant capacity, and if it were to evacuate the UN would be
completely without the enabling partners upon which its depends: all
humanitarian operations of significance would cease.

Such blackmail must be accepted for what it is and must inform policy
responses to the Khartoum regime. It may be rhetorically satisfying for
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare,

"‘The real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear
on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum [to get them] to
understand that they will be held responsible for every single death
that occurs in those camps.” (Voice of America [dateline: Washington,
DC], March 17, 2009)

But this is an extraordinarily misconceived notion of “pressure” on
al-Bashir and the regime: they don’t need to be pressured to
“understand” their responsibility because they already know full
well. And if the suggestion is that they will be pressured by accruing
further responsibility for deaths in Darfur (“they will be held
responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps”), this
is absurd: al-Bashir (and eventually all senior members of the NIF
cabal) face multiple charges of crimes against humanity, for which they
are most certainly responsible. The recent expulsions themselves
constitute extremely serious violations of international law and
international humanitarian law, and are being investigated by the UN
human rights office. Does Secretary Clinton think that additional
deaths going forward---on whatever scale, generating whatever
charges---can alter the thinking of this genocidal regime? This is the
yet again the substitute of rhetoric for action, and is perceived as
such by Khartoum.

The truth is that the US, the European nations, and others professing
concern for Darfur failed to anticipate the clear possibility of a
strenuous move by Khartoum. As a result they were caught flat-footed in
the event. There had been, for example, no marshalling of diplomatic
resources to persuade China to act in concert with other concerned
nations in the event Khartoum went to extremes. There was no real
diplomatic engagement with either the Arab League or the African Union,
attempting to secure their efforts in constraining Khartoum’s
response. (The Chinese and some Arab and African countries are reliably
reported as being highly distressed by Khartoum’s expulsions: why
could that distress not have been anticipated and made the basis for
negotiations on how to moderate regime behavior?)

What we know now is that there is no simple way out of this
excruciating crisis. The view of a Darfur campaigner for Amnesty

“‘The question is, Do we allow a regime to blackmail an independent
judicial process by taking its population hostage?’ said Denise Bell,
Darfur campaigner with Amnesty International. ‘This is not a matter of
justice or security, or security or peace. They can all happen
together.’” (Journal of Philanthropy, March 6, 2009)

— -seems painfully naïve. “Justice,” “security” for
humanitarians, and “peace” are inextricably intertwined in Darfur,
no doubt. But her facile generalization---“they can all happen
together”---suggests nothing by way of an answer to the most basic
question of the moment: how do we secure readmission for humanitarian
organizations, with adequate security guarantees, and leave the ICC
warrant for al-Bashir undeferred? Unfortunately, the force of her
rhetorical question---“do we allow a regime to blackmail an
independent judicial process by taking its population hostage?---is
entirely dissipated by the clear evidence that Khartoum is indeed using
Darfur successfully in blackmailing the entire international community.

Again, a survey among humanitarians, diplomats, UN officials, and
government figures provides no evidence that Khartoum intends to reverse
its expulsion decision. This leaves us staring squarely at the reality
described by one aid worker, already cited:

"‘The humanitarian operation was just destroyed’ said an individual
associated with the aid effort. ‘There isn’t a humanitarian
operation at this point; there is a remainder that will try to cover,
but those who were removed were fundamental to everything.’”

At this point, the words of major international actors, whether tepid
or strenuous, inevitably suggest that this “unacceptable”
catastrophe has become acceptable. Of course this is hardly new: it
defines the world response to Darfur over the past six years.

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