Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 14 May 2009

Darfur humanitarian expulsions, two months on


Questions concerning the adequacy of humanitarian assistance and the
nature of violence in Darfur become increasingly politicized; amidst the
debate, conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate, threatening

By Eric Reeves

May 14, 2009 — Views of the Darfur humanitarian crisis continue to diverge sharply,
and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that much of what is
said---particularly by the US, the UN, the African Union, and of course
Khartoum’s officials---is driven by broader and ultimately expedient
political calculations. Unable to respond effectively to the March 4
humanitarian shutdowns by the regime, various actors are either
contriving self-serving assessments or accommodating Khartoum for fear
of further expulsions and reprisals. The contradictions between these
humanitarian assessments are so striking that it seems essential to use
primarily humanitarian sources, supplemented by news reports with
regional datelines, in speaking of current conditions on the ground in
Darfur---now some ten weeks after Khartoum expelled thirteen
international humanitarian organizations and shut down three important
national organizations.

Even within the humanitarian community we find startling contrasts.
Following an assessment mission in late March, UN Emergency Relief
Coordinator John Holmes declared bluntly of the measures Khartoum had
proposed in response to the accelerating crisis:

"‘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)

At the same time humanitarian workers were also 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,

Such blunt assessments no longer seem politic, so Holmes has recently
offered a more benign view of the crisis:

“Holmes, the UN’s senior humanitarian official, was keen to point out
that, despite the recent expulsion of key international aid agencies,
the humanitarian situation had not deteriorated as dramatically as many
had feared. The UN and the Sudanese government have filled many gaps.
‘I think most of the life-saving gaps have been met but of course
some services have been reduced in some places so you can’t exclude that
there have been extra deaths.’” (BBC [dateline: Darfur], May 10,

But as welcome as these words will be in Khartoum, the realities of
numerous reports from the UN, humanitarian organizations, news
dispatches from the ground, and confidential communications with former
aid workers and Darfuris---all suggest that taken at face value, Holmes
comments simply don’t adequately convey the growing threats to water,
sanitation and hygiene, gaps in primary medical care, and longer-term
food insecurity. His assessment represents, instead, deferential
recognition of the continuing threats to humanitarian operations posed
by Khartoum, and a recognition as well that the international community
has no intention of pressing further for the return of the expelled
organizations. After more than two months it is clear that there is no
meaningful political support for restoring the 50 percent of
humanitarian capacity that was lost.

To his credit, Holmes himself offers some notable qualifications to his
upbeat account:

“When he toured Sudan for five days this week, [Holmes] sought to
make it clear UN agencies ‘lack the capacity to continue providing
necessary assistance, unless they can identify new implementing
partners.’” (National Post [Canada], May 11, 2009)

This is a particularly significant qualification, given the enormous
but unsustainable role that UNICEF has been playing in Darfur over the
past two months. Another UN agency, the World Food Program, has
declared that “its work ‘is an ad hoc, rapid response with limited
accountability and is therefore unsustainable.’ It does not have the
staff and infrastructure to replace the expelled aid agencies.”
(National Post [Canada], May 11, 2009)

Holmes also acknowledged the ominous realities of the seasons:

“‘As the rainy and lean season [“hunger gap”] approach, we are
still grappling with the gaps left in many areas,’ he added. [ ]
‘The critical test will be over the coming months. Our ability to
respond in a timely and efficient manner, and fill the [humanitarian]
gaps in a sustained way, will require the active engagement of all
actors and a loosening of the bureaucratic impediments currently
constraining the humanitarian community.” (Statement by the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA] [Khartoum/New York],
May 10, 2009)

And as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon insisted in his most recent
bimonthly report on Darfur to the Security Council:

“While joint efforts by the UN and Sudan ‘can address some of the
most critical gaps in aid delivery in the coming weeks,’ Ban said,
‘the cumulative effects over time of the removal of such a large
amount of humanitarian capacity puts well over 1 million people at
life-threatening risk.’ ‘The rainy season starting in May is likely
to make the situation significantly worse,’ Ban warned.” (Associated
Press [dateline: UN/New York], April 21, 2009)

The catastrophe has not been realized, but is impending. There is no
single gap that must be filled, but myriad. The effects of such massive
loss of humanitarian capacity will be cumulative, but that accumulation
will accelerate soon.

Even blunter assessments come from humanitarian organizations, freed
from many of political obligations that constrain UN humanitarians.
Alun McDonald, spokesman for Oxfam/Great Britain, one of the largest and
most important of the expelled organizations, recently declared:

“‘The impact of the expulsions is already being felt across Darfur,
but is likely to get even worse in the coming months. One of the
largest humanitarian crises in the world could get even worse.’”
(Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2009)

There have been previous expulsions of humanitarian organizations from
Darfur, and they have sometimes occasioned a purer honesty than is
possible while an organization is on the ground and at the mercy of
Khartoum’s reprisals:

“In December 2006 the largest agency then working in Darfur, the
Norwegian Refugee Council was expelled. Its secretary general, Tom
Archer, warned: ‘The international community cannot continue to mince
words, pretending that the hostage-taking of humanitarian operations in
Darfur is not happening on its watch.’ He insisted that it was time
for the international community ‘to break its code of silence and
act.’” (British Medical Journal [dateline: Juba (South Sudan),
Nairobi, London], April 18, 2009)

For a range of reasons Archer’s challenge was not accepted by the
remaining organizations; but they are all aware of the deep truth of his

Moreover, despite Holmes’ encouraging words, we must remember that
virtually all is premised on “agreements” with a regime that has
consistently violated all those it has signed since April 2004. And
Khartoum’s measures are still “band-aid solutions,” given the
scale of the crisis and cumulative effect of the expulsions. At the
very least Holmes’ characterizations need a great deal more context
than he has provided. The claim that there is no evidence of additional
mortality, when in March alone 5,000 malnourished children as well as
pregnant and lactating mothers were denied supplementary feeding
(Situation Report, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, April 16, 2009), certainly seems tendentious. A recent
humanitarian survey found a sharp uptick in the number of admissions of
children under five to the remaining nutrition centers, indicating a
general deterioration in the nutritional status of Darfur’s youngest
victims. In turn, vulnerability to disease derives directly from
malnutrition. Many young victims no longer have access to either
supplementary feeding or medical care.

Ultimately, Holmes’ comments are a signal that in the ten weeks since
Khartoum expelled aid organizations representing more than 50 percent of
humanitarian capacity in Darfur, the expulsions have gradually come to
be accepted by the international community, which has acquiesced in a
patching together of ad hoc and stop-gap measures that can’t begin to
make up for the capacity lost. Makeshift efforts have necessarily
become a substitute for international political will.

For example, President Barack Obama declared a week after the
expulsions that such actions were “not acceptable” (March 10, 2009).
But he and representatives of his administration have subsequently
taken to a vague language of accommodation:

“We have to figure out a mechanism to get those [expelled
international humanitarian organizations] back in place [in Darfur], to
reverse that decision, ***or to find some mechanism***[emphasis added]
whereby we avert an enormous humanitarian crisis, [Obama said].’”
(Reuters [dateline: Washington, DC, March 30, 2009)

Such a “mechanism” is nowhere in sight six weeks after Obama’s
declaration---and more than a month after US Special Envoy to Sudan
Scott Gration declared, “We have to come up with a solution [to the
humanitarian crisis] on the ground in the next few weeks” (Agence
France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], April 4, 2009). Senator John Kerry,
chair of the Senate foreign relations committee and also representing
Obama in Khartoum, has expanded administration disingenuousness by
declaring (April 17, 2009): “‘We have agreement [with Khartoum] that
in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian]
capacity,’ said [Senator John] Kerry” (Reuters [dateline:
el-Fasher], April 17, 2009).

Kerry’s scandalous deception manages at once to suggest, absurdly,
that an agreement with Khartoum means anything over the long term, and
that rapid restoration of 50 percent of humanitarian capacity in Darfur
is remotely feasible. And this leaves aside the other deeply affected
areas of Sudan: there has been almost no reporting on the effects of the
expulsions and shutdowns on the people of Eastern Sudan, Southern Blue
Nile, Southern Kordofan, and Abyei. This is true even as the
organizations expelled were disproportionately important actors in
responding to these acutely vulnerable populations, numbering in the
many hundreds of thousands.

In attempting to move beyond the expedient politicization of the Darfur
humanitarian crisis, the present account synthesizes what can be known
on the basis of public documents, humanitarian reports, and confidential
communications with aid organizations and representatives of Darfuri
civil society. The information is partial, but indicative. Events are
moving quickly, and some specific observations and reports have been
overtaken by events; but overall trends can be clearly observed. The
availability of clean water is rapidly collapsing in a number of
locations; tens of thousands of malnourished children under five are not
receiving the supplementary or therapeutic feeding they urgently
require; longer range plans for food distribution in Darfur have not
materialized; the quality of aid is sharply diminishing, particularly
primary health care; latrine maintenance and construction is woefully
inadequate, posing dire health threats; and with the rainy season almost
upon the region, water-borne diseases are poised to explode in

But what are the official words about Darfur, including from the
Khartoum regime that is partner to the “agreement” celebrated by
Senator Kerry? I offer a compendium of recent public statements that
suggest further context for understanding the diplomatic mincing that is
the world’s response to actions that threaten millions of Darfuris, as
well as many hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in the marginalized

The view from Khartoum:

[1] “[T]here [are] no humanitarian problems in Darfur. ‘Everything
is positive. There is calmness in the region and there is no existence
of hunger.’" (Sudan’s permanent representative to the UN,
Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem as cited by Sudanese Media Center, April 25,

[2] “The United Nations has said the expelled aid groups accounted
for more than half of the aid distribution capacity in Darfur. That,
Abdalhaleem said, was another ‘big lie.’ ‘The volume is 4.7
percent,’ he said, referring to the amount of aid the 16 groups were
responsible for.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], April 23, 2009)

On the nature of conflict in Darfur:

[3] “The war in Darfur in now ‘a low-intensity conflict.’”
(Rodolphe Adada, Head of Joint United Nations/African Mission in Darfur,
before the UN Security Council, April 27, 2009) [This view is
authoritatively reported to have been echoed by US Special Envoy to
Sudan Scott Gration.]

[4] “An interim cease-fire is within reach, one which will allow the
armed movements and the government of Sudan to achieve a comprehensive
solution [to the Darfur crisis],” (US State Department press
statement, April 30, 2009)

Not all agree:

[5] “The trend of high levels of violence that has characterized
2008 continued during the last quarter of the year. Armed
confrontations between Government of Sudan forces and opposition groups
and inter-tribal fighting caused further new population displacements,
although numbers of displaced in camps remained largely stable with
respect to the previous report of 1 October [2008]. In 2008, some
317,000 people were newly displaced, often for the second or third time
since the conflict started in early 2003.” (UN Darfur Humanitarian
Profile No. 34, representing conditions as of January 1, 2009)

[6] “Unfortunately, under present circumstances, a comprehensive
ceasefire is not a prospect,” (Rodolphe Adada, Head of Joint United
Nations/African Mission in Darfur, before the UN Security Council, April
27, 2009)

[7] “[A]n alarming number of clashes took place between the two
[combatant] parties over the reporting period [February/March 2009].
UNAMID received numerous reports of aerial bombardment, including night
attacks, of actual and suspected Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
positions by Government forces during the two-week period following the
withdrawal of JEM from Muhajeriya, including reports of bombing of Dobo
Madrassa, Tarny, Dabaneria, Dobo, Kutur, Fanga Suk, Deribat, Kazan
Tanjur and Falluja (Northern Darfur) on 6 February; around Afara
Mountains near Beli Ali Seref village (20 km west from Shangil Tobaya,
Northern Darfur) on 8 February; around Tarny village (60 km south-west
of El Fasher) on 9 February; in areas of Dobo El Sug, Madrasa,
Dabaneira, Dobo Djedid, Kutur Dubo, El Omda and Funga on 10 February;
and Dobo Madrassa (Northern Darfur) on 13 February.”
(Excerpt from report by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on security
situation in Darfur, April 14, 2009)

On the Darfur peace process:

[8] “UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement the Doha ‘agreement
of goodwill and confidence-building [signed by the Justice and Equality
Movement and the Khartoum regime in Qatar on February 17] represents a
constructive step in the ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful
conclusion to this long-running conflict.’" (UN/New York, February 18,

[9] “An ambitious attempt to convene a civil society conference on
Darfur with the aim of building what its organizers call ‘a mandate
for peace’ has been derailed by the Sudanese government. The
organizers of the conference, which was scheduled to take place next
week, announced Friday [May 8] that they had cancelled it because
Khartoum had refused to allow Darfurian delegates to travel to Addis
Ababa for the meeting. [ ]

“Announcing the conference last month, ‘Mandate Darfur’ billed
itself as ‘the largest gathering of Darfurian civil society
representatives ever assembled.’ The group said up to 300 delegates
from across tribal, ethnic, geographic and religious communities would
work towards a common mandate for peace talks.” (allAfrica, May 8,

Contrasting views of the Khartoum regime from candidate and President
Obama and his administration:

[10] "I am deeply concerned by reports that the Bush Administration is
negotiating a normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan
that would include removing it from the list of state sponsors of
terrorism. This would reportedly be in exchange for Khartoum’s agreement
to allow Thai and Nepalese troops to participate in the joint African
Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur. This reckless and
cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record
of failing to live up to its commitments.” (Formal statement by
candidate Barack Obama [Chicago], April 18, 2008)

[11] Special Envoy Gration on his arrival in Khartoum: “I come
‘with my hands open,’ hoping that the regime would ‘respond
with a hand of friendship.’ Like all Americans, Gration continued,
“Ana ahib Sudan, or ‘I love Sudan.’” (Sudan Tribune,
Khartoum, April 2, 2008)

[12] “I take serious issue with the way the report [on
international terrorism by the US State Department] overstates the level
of cooperation in our counterterrorism relationship with Sudan, a nation
which the US classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. A more accurate
assessment is important not only for effectively countering terrorism in
the region, but as part of a review of our overall policy toward
(Statement by Senator Russell Feingold, Chair of the Africa
Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, May 1, 2009)


In such a highly politicized context, what can we know of humanitarian
conditions in Darfur ten weeks after the Khartoum regime used the ICC
arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir as a pretext for expelling
thirteen international aid organizations, representing over 50 percent
of overall capacity in Darfur? What can we say of conditions in other
marginalized regions of northern Sudan (Eastern Sudan, Southern Blue
Nile, Southern Kordofan, and Abyei) where the expelled organizations
have played a disproportionately large role?

Despite the characteristically mendacious declarations from Khartoum
that the humanitarian situation is fine, a well-placed UN humanitarian
official recently estimated that even with various band-aid measures
undertaken by the regime and energetic efforts by UN organizations,
total humanitarian capacity in early May remained at approximately 50
percent of the pre-March 4 capacity. There has been partial replacement
of what was lost; UNICEF in particular has energetically attempted to
fill some of the gaps left by the expulsions, but hasn’t nearly the
capacity to sustain these efforts. The aid organizations from the Arab
and Islamic world that had been suggested by Khartoum as resources have
predictably failed to materialize in a significant way.

But just as consequentially, two extremely serious security incidents
since the expulsions---involving the unprecedented kidnappings of
international aid workers---have further reduced humanitarian
willingness to serve in outlying or rural areas, dramatically curtailing
access. This decline in security is perhaps the least appreciated
development bearing on both quantity and quality of humanitarian
assistance, and has largely negated any augmenting of capacity from
other sources. Organizations are rightly fearful, and are increasingly
inclined to hunker down. If this trend continues, assistance will be
available only in urban and larger camp settings; large-scale migrations
of populations will occur, creating further problems, both near and
longer term. (For a brief assessment of the highly limited protection
offered by the current deployment of UNAMID, see below.)

It should be shocking that hundreds of thousands of people have no
access to food, potable water, and primary medical care; the same is
true for hundreds of thousands of civilians in Eastern Sudan and the
marginalized areas along the north/south border, which were also
directly affected by the expulsions. But the Darfur crisis no longer
seems to occasion shock, in part because its numbers are so
overwhelming---including the fact that genocidal destruction has now
entered its seventh year. But with an effort at statistical imagination
we may discern the implications of some of the figures that are emerging
in the wake of the humanitarian expulsions. Beyond the incomprehensible
numbers---several hundreds of thousands dead, more than 2.7 million
internally displaced, approximately 4.7 million affected by the conflict
and in need of humanitarian assistance---lie more accessible figures.

For example, we know that the UN estimates some 700,000 people will
enter the rainy season without shelter (Report by Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon on security situation in Darfur, April 14, 2009). They will be
vulnerable to the season’s slashing rainfall, frequent floods, and
acute temperature variation. We also know that malnutrition among
children under five is increasing dramatically---in part because
Darfuris have entered the “hunger gap” prior to the fall harvest, in
part because the therapeutic treatment of these children has been
drastically reduced with the expulsions. The UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently found that in
March, “5,000 malnourished children under five and pregnant and
lactating women did not receive supplementary food due to absence of a
partner” (OCHA Situation Report No. 4, 16 April 2009, “Expulsion of
Key NGOs from Darfur,” April 16, 2009).


Altogether the fate of 4.7 million conflict-affected civilians grows
daily more uncertain---despite UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Holmes’
upbeat assessment---as the consequences of humanitarian expulsions
continue to outstrip what are indeed “band-aid” measures. The 2.7
million people who have been internally displaced within Darfur live in
camp environments that in some cases have deteriorated seriously since
the expulsions, especially in the areas of water, sanitation, and
hygiene (WASH).

The rainy season begins within a month, and health risks---especially
cholera, dysentery, and malaria---will skyrocket if there is no clean
water, no primary health care to halt the spread of water-borne
diseases, and no adequate shelter from mosquitoes. Drinking ground
water or improperly treated water in the cramped conditions of the camps
is a formula for medical disaster. Moreover, deadly bacterial
meningitis is a serious and ongoing threat in several camps, and perhaps
extends more widely. We don’t know because the remaining humanitarian
organizations have been seriously compromised in their ability to assess
and monitor morbidity, mortality, and vaccination scheduling.

Ideally, remaining humanitarian organizations would take over some of
the tasks of expelled organizations; but as UN OCHA notes in its April
16, 2009 report (“Expulsion of Key NGOs from Darfur”):

“Although several humanitarian partners have expressed interest in
filling gaps in the sanitation and hygiene sectors, there has been
little progress due to lack of available funding and capacity.”
(Situation Report #4)

Sanitation is becoming abysmally inadequate in several camps. Zam Zam
camp near el-Fasher (North Darfur) has taken in more than 40,000
displaced persons who fled Khartoum’s violent capture of Muhajeria
(South Darfur) in February 2009. Such a large population requires some
2,000 new latrines, using the standard humanitarian formula of one
latrine per 20 people, and yet so far Khartoum’s WES (Water,
Environment, and Sanitation) has constructed only 300 and is failing to
maintain existing latrines. The regime itself refuses to grant land for
this massive displaced population adjoining Zam Zam, and these people
now face dire health threats.

One recent humanitarian survey finds, for example, that none of the
remaining humanitarian organizations, or WES, is able to fill the
massive gaps in latrine maintenance, de-sludging, and waste disposal.
Some latrines are collapsing for lack of maintenance. This could
rapidly lead to the spread of a range of diseases in cramped camps and
even some rural areas, such as Kass. None of this is mentioned by

Water is increasingly untreated, or improperly treated, in many camps,
even as the lack of sanitation (particularly latrines) makes such water
an increasingly likely bearer of disease. Fuel for pumping drinking
water is already a problem and will continue to be so through at least
the rainy season. Technical maintenance of mechanical water boreholes,
including replacement parts such as faucets, is not nearly adequate and
will soon produce severe shortages of potable water. A spokesman for
Oxfam/Great Britain, one of the expelled organizations, assessed the
situation in the giant Kalma camp outside Nyala (South Darfur):

“In Darfur there are already clear signs of impact [from the
humanitarian expulsions]. In some camps, there is a real danger that
mechanised water pumps will stop working due to lack of fuel and
technical maintenance. In Kalma camp this has already
happened---boreholes have stopped pumping water.’” (British Medical
Journal [dateline: Juba, Nairobi, London], April 14, 2009)

Penny Lawrence, the international programs director for Oxfam/Great
Britain, spoke more broadly in an April 15 statement by the

“‘We have already been told that water pumps in some Darfur camps
have stopped pumping, and there are growing fears about the potential
for outbreaks of disease in the coming rainy season,’ Lawrence said.
‘The expulsion is already affecting the lives of hundreds of
thousands of the very poorest and most vulnerable Sudanese people.’”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Nairobi], April
15, 2009)

In some camps there is an actual shortage of water reservoirs, as
ground water levels recede. Darfur Humanitarian Profile No. 34,
representing conditions as of January 1, 2009, reported: “Ground water
monitoring indicates that ground water levels are receding and ground
water is gradually being depleted at some IDP and urban locations in
Darfur” (page 11, hereafter DHP 34). This assessment was made before
the humanitarian expulsions, when plans were underway to “conduct
studies to identify potential sites and designs for artificial recharge
structures at vulnerable IDP locations in North and South Darfur” (DHP
34, page 11). These plans will remain merely such given the massive
loss of capacity for such large-scale projects.


Primary health care (PHC) is the sector in which skilled professional
training is most important, and which is likely to suffer soonest as a
result of Khartoum’s expulsions (and again, not only in Darfur).
Unsurprisingly, this is the area in which “band-aids” are least
likely to give even the appearance of closing the enormous gap in
capacity. UN OCHA reports in its April 16, 2009 “weekly bulletin”

“Latest data indicate that less than half of the primary health care
centres formerly managed by suspended NGOs are now being operated by the
State Ministry of Health, and less than 40 per cent of the former
population is being accessed by these centres.”

Management of primary health centers by the State Ministry of Health
will certainly not be as qualified or as committed as that of the
expelled organizations, further attenuating real humanitarian capacity.

The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks offers (May 4, 2009)
also offers a grim overview of the consequences of humanitarian

“The expulsion of 13 international NGOs (INGOs) operating in the
western Sudan region of Darfur has left gaps in health coverage,
according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) as 12 of them
provided health and nutrition services to about 1.1 million people.
Through mobile clinics, hospitals and primary healthcare (PHC)
facilities, the organisations had been providing essential services
ranging from referrals for complicated and life-threatening cases to
surveillance of epidemics, states the [UN World Health Organization]
March-April health bulletin.”

“In North Darfur, reproductive healthcare services have been
interrupted after the closure of a Primary Health Care facility; the
activities of other health facilities, serving at least 200,000 people,
have also been curtailed.”

“In West Darfur, only 63 of 145 medical staff are providing services
at 18 health facilities.” [According to the Office of the
Secretary-General (May 13, 2009), three therapeutic feeding centers
remain closed because of insecurity and lack of capacity; for children
with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), this is a virtual death

“In South Darfur, one rural hospital in Muhajariya and some other
health facilities are closed. Five of six therapeutic feeding centres
are also shut.” (dateline: Nairobi)

The shutting of therapeutic feeding centers, which typically treat
children with Severe Acute Malnutrition, will certainly occasion
significant mortality.

Health facilities that have focused on women and children have been
badly compromised and health workers fear that women will “resort to
so-called baladi methods, a mixture of traditional herbs and magic”
(Associated Press [dateline: Abu Shouk Camp, North Darfur], April 19,
2009). Another concern is the medical treatment of victims of sexual
violence, treatment that is much less likely to occur under the new
humanitarian regime:

“The expulsion of 13 international and three Sudanese aid agencies
from Darfur in March interrupted nutritional programs for malnourished
children and pregnant and nursing mothers and shut down many programs to
train midwives, promote hygiene, and help women suffering from violence.
It has also removed many of the experts who were dealing with and
tracking sexual assaults. Getting women to report attacks has always
been difficult. With trusted experts now gone, it gets even harder, UN
officials say. Women may also be less likely to report attacks to
government aid agencies, which are taking a larger role in treating
refugees.” (Associated Press [dateline: Abu Shouk Camp, North Darfur],
April 19, 2009)

The protective role of international humanitarian presence could hardly
be highlighted more clearly:

“Zahra Abdel-Rahman, a women’s leader in Abu Shouk camp, fears an
increase in attacks, even inside Abu Shouk. ‘When the aid groups are
gone, violence comes inside our camp,’ she said. Abdel-Rahman said she
had recorded five cases of violence against women in the last month.
(Associated Press [dateline: Abu Shouk Camp, North Darfur], April 19,

Of particular note in assessing overall PHC capacity is the expulsion
of the French and Dutch sections of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins
Sans Frontieres (MSF). These were enormously important providers of
medical health care, they were among the very earliest responders to
Darfur, and they simply cannot be replaced. Ominously the three MSF
sections not expelled (Spain, Belgium, and Italy) are severely limited
by an international staff that is largely paralyzed following the
kidnapping of three of their members on March 11 (they were released
three days later). National staff of the remaining MSF sections are
carrying on as well as possible, but the capacity of these distinguished
medical relief organizations has been seriously attenuated.


General food distributions for March and April were completed by the UN
World Food Program (WFP), but as of this writing there is no plan for
distributions later in May and the following months (coincident with the
rainy season and the most intense period of the hunger gap). And even
if a distribution is patched together, there will be none of the
oversight and monitoring that is required for equitable distribution.
More than 1 million people will be affected, many losing access to food
altogether. Current stockpiles will be stretched as far as possible,
but it appears unlikely that WFP will be able to pre-position more than
two-thirds of the required food prior to the onset of the impending
rainy season. Rural populations, especially those in more remote
locations, will be hit hardest---not only by lack of food and primary
medical care but in some locations a lack of clean water.

A food crisis will not hit in the immediate term, but if people
conclude that their prospects for humanitarian relief are greater
elsewhere, they will move. The consequence often will be even more
intense competition for limited food resources, and very likely
violence. As I remarked in a March 4, 2009 analysis of the humanitarian
expulsions (http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article240.html), the threat of
population migrations and attendant violence 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 may 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 Integrated Regional Information Networks [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)

Food supplies will certainly vary by region, and it is notable that
West Darfur has been disproportionately hard hit by the expulsions.
According to one humanitarian survey, the remoteness of West Darfur also
makes it especially vulnerable. Eight humanitarian organizations were
expelled or shut down in the region (seven international organizations
were expelled, one Sudanese organization shut down). Khartoum’s WES
(Water, Environment, Sanitation) is attempting to take on the many
functions served by these organizations, but is excessively dependent on
a vastly overstretched UNICEF. Much of the “coverage” is on paper
only, or in the “expression of interest” phase. This will not
distribute food, repair and maintain latrines, ensure adequate supplies
of clean water, or provide PHC.

Sooner or later food will become an immense part of the growing crisis
in Darfur without a very substantial increase in meaningful humanitarian


The primary obstacle to increasing humanitarian capacity is the
hostility to such efforts by the regime in Khartoum: it has deliberately
created the present crisis with its expulsions and shutdowns. And with
its decision to refuse re-entry to humanitarian organizations, the
regime has ensured that no augmenting of capacity will be adequate to
the immense needs of the people of Darfur and other regions of Sudan.
We know full well that Khartoum had many months to prepare its
“response” to the inevitable International Criminal Court
announcement indicting President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and
crimes against humanity in Darfur. We know full well that the regime
was aware of what the consequences of its expulsions would be; and yet
these génocidaires proceeded mercilessly, determined to use the
indictment as a pretext for doing what it had clearly long wanted to do.
This pervasive hostility to humanitarian presence in Darfur, as well as
elsewhere in Sudan, is the obverse of the regime’s refusal to provide
significant humanitarian relief to its own acutely threatened
marginalized populations.

It should not be surprising that in addition to expelling international
humanitarian organizations, Khartoum confiscated much of the material
and resources belonging to these organizations. These included laptop
computers with vital data, records, and accounts, and in some cases
extremely sensitive information about victims of sexual violence. Also
taken were cell phones, vehicles, and money, including bank account
information. It is clear that a free hand had been given to local and
national officials to take what they wanted:

“Some aid workers alleged government officials were driving their
vehicles, wearing their clothes and selling their laptop computers. One
aid worker said even curtains from a residential compound were taken.”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], April
24, 2009)

At the same time Khartoum demanded that the expelled organizations pay
its national workers six months severance pay---but to the regime
itself, not to the workers (by law, severance pay in Sudan is one month,
not six). This was nothing less than extortion, leaving several
organizations facing enormously consequential debts:

“The extra [severance] pay-outs amount to $11.5 million for the 13
organisations, in addition to US$10.6 in usual
termination-without-notice payments and $20.3 million in seized assets,
NGO sources said.” [ ]

“‘They asked us to pay an exorbitant amount of money... [and said]:
“We have your passports. Once you agree to pay, you can leave the
country,”’ said Jane Coyne, head of mission for Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF)-France, one of 13 aid agencies ordered to leave
Sudan for their alleged provision of information to the International
Criminal Court.” [ ]

“‘The word I like to use is extortion…That’s all money that at
the end of the day has to come from donors that would have otherwise
gone for programmes in Darfur,’ an aid source said on condition of
anonymity. ‘It’s absolutely maddening that we would have to pay this
and that the government is just going to get away with it. There’s no
recourse. There’s no retribution. There’s no penalty for the
government. There’s nothing.”

“MSF International said in a statement that the Sudanese authorities
had confiscated departing staff members’ passports until just a few
hours before they left. This ‘effectively put them in a hostage
situation.’ Bank accounts were also frozen at times. Most of the
expelled NGOs have agreed to the government’s demands so as to ensure
their staff could leave Sudan and to avoid potential detention or
physical attack by members of the public. Local media and government
officials---as well as several speeches by the president---have
repeatedly referred to NGO ‘spies’ and ‘thieves.’” (UN
Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Cairo], April 24,

Extortion, hostage-taking, illegal confiscation of humanitarian assets:
this is the face of the “humanitarian partner” for ongoing
life-saving operations in Darfur. The is the “partner” to the
“agreement” touted by Senator John Kerry---one notionally to have
seen “100 percent” of humanitarian capacity restored by now:

“‘We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will
be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity,’ said [Senator John]
Kerry,” (Reuters [Dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], April 17, 2009)

Just as serious has been the seizure of warehouses that served as
staging areas for humanitarian distributions. Early in the crisis, when
John Holmes felt he might still have strong political backing, he spoke
to this critical issue:

“In one case, warehouses full of food supplied to the NGOs for
distribution by the World Food Organization (WFP) were being held,
[Holmes] said. ‘This is not in line with the agreements we have with
the Government of Sudan, nor indeed with the any of the normal tenets of
behaviour in these kinds of circumstances,’ he emphasized.” (UN News
Center, March 9, 2000)

And Khartoum continued to hold such warehouses instead of turning them
over to the UN Joint Logistics Center (UNJLC) for proper humanitarian
use. The approximately 700,000 people who will be without shelter this
rainy season are destined to suffer precisely because of the regime’s

“691,120 people out of 692,400 remain without NFI [non-food items,
including sheltering material] distribution coverage as warehouses in El
Fasher and El Geneina have not been handed over to UNJLC [by
Khartoum].” (UN OCHA, “Expulsion of Key NGOs from Darfur,”
April 16, 2009)

The painfully (and destructively) gradual return of the warehouses to
UN control has taken over two months, and is yet another measure of how
Khartoum continues to obstruct humanitarian operations.

Another example of this obstructionism is the regime’s refusal to
grant land for the more the 42,000 newly displaced people displaced who
have arrived at Zam Zam camp outside el-Fasher (North Darfur), having
fled the bloody fighting in the Muhajeria area of South Darfur (tens of
thousands of additional IDPs have fled to other already overwhelmed
camps). Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his most recent bimonthly
report to the Security Council (April 14, 2009), highlights the lack of
adequate water supplies for the new arrivals, but also emphasizes the
fact that Khartoum officials “have not yet allocated sufficient space
to accommodate the newly arrived internally displaced persons, despite
repeated requests by the United Nations” (page 5).

We should know from ample past experience that in the coming months we
will hear about many such refusals of the UN by Khartoum. Many will be
as willful and destructive as the refusal to accommodate IDPs at Zam
Zam; others may be more consequential yet. But the attitude is one of
giving only as much as international public relations demands. The same
men who have harassed, abused, and obstructed humanitarian workers for
years; the same men who have held humanitarians hostage, made them
victims of extortion, confiscated their possessions and organizational
assets; the same men who have countenanced the beatings, assaults, and
hijacking of humanitarian workers---these are the same men who will be
making decisions going forward. Absent an improbable moral
metamorphosis, can the regime really be expected to change the character
of its decisions?

Another major obstacle to increasing humanitarian capacity is
insecurity, which more than three years ago had reached intolerable
levels, at least from the publicly articulated perspective of large
groups of both UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations.
Indeed, it is difficult to stress sufficiently the constraining role of
insecurity throughout Darfur, and how much of the region is simply
inaccessible. Not only is such insecurity prompting many humanitarian
organizations to reconsider the viability of their presence in Darfur,
but it acts as a deterrent to the deployment of new personnel and
resources by other organizations. The UN Department of Security and
Safety has privately warned that “violence toward humanitarian
personnel in Darfur is spiraling out of control. The situation is
untenable and people will start to leave soon.”

This dire warning from UN DSS deserves repeating:

“violence toward humanitarian personnel in Darfur is spiraling out of
control. The situation is untenable and people will start to leave

It is also insufficiently remarked how difficult it is to begin
operations in Darfur, and how dependent humanitarian organizations are
upon institutional memory, local knowledge, and an understanding of the
ways of getting things done under extraordinarily difficult
circumstances. Lack of first-hand knowledge of security concerns and
limitations will be a constraining reality for any new international
organizations. And while national workers of expelled organizations
have in some cases been recruited by those organizations remaining, many
Sudanese fear the consequences of their association with former
employers now charged, in effect, with espionage. Some have fled, gone
under cover, or simply decided to leave the increasingly dangerous
business of aid work.

Certainly, as UN officials privately insist, Khartoum’s military and
security presence is sufficient in urban areas, and other areas under
their control, to prevent a great many of the attacks by hijackers and
bandits. Not to engage in such prevention and protection is
deliberately to put workers at risk in an attempt to limit their
movements. Inaction is, in the current security environment, an
efficient means of achieving cruel goals that are all too clear.


Almost two years after it was unanimously authorized by the UN Security
Council, the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is failing in
many respects, particularly in winning the confidence of the Darfuri
people. Moreover, augmenting UNAMID capacity during the coming months
will be extremely difficult once the rains begin. The UN-authorized
peace support operation is floundering at much less than half capacity,
as even Rodolphe Adada (Special Joint Representative of the UN and
African Union to UNAMID) admits. The preposterously ineffectual Adada
recently told the Security Council that UNAMID “was operating at
roughly one third of its full capability” (SC/9644 April 27, 2009),
and even this seems excessively optimistic.

The obvious motive for Adada’s misrepresentation is to rescue the
African Union (which, at Khartoum’s insistence, is preponderant in
UNAMID) from the ignominy of failure in its first major operation in
Africa. This also accounts for his astonishing claim that Darfur is a
“low-intensity conflict,” a claim that makes sense only in the
context of the massive violence from 2003 through early 2005. But
insecurity is “intense” throughout Darfur, so much so that UNAMID
cannot travel to many locations and continues to have its movements
blocked by Khartoum’s Military Intelligence. We get a glimpse of just
how restrictive the regime can be in the Secretary-General’s most
recent bimonthly report (April 14, 2009):

“The mission, however, continued to face restrictions on its freedom
of movement. These restrictions were imposed mainly by the Government of
the Sudan forces before and after military engagements with different
movements, and were justified to UNAMID on security grounds. For
example, a UNAMID convoy from Zalingei was denied access to Mukjar
(Western Darfur) on 17 February 2009, while a patrol from Khor Abeche to
Al Mallam (50 km south-west of Shangil Tobaya, Northern Darfur) was
denied access on 19 February, following clashes between Government
forces and JEM in eastern
Jebel Marra. In one instance, access to Al Riyadh camp for internally
persons in El Geneina (Western Darfur) was denied to a UNAMID night
patrol on 8 March.” (page 7)

UNAMID was also denied access to the regime’s detention facilities:

“During the reporting period, UNAMID was unable to access detention
facilities run by the National Intelligence Security Services and its
access to prisons was often limited owing to delays in receiving
authorization from the Ministry of the Interior.” (page 8)

Humanitarian organizations are also frequently denied access for
transparently military reasons:

“Humanitarian access to some areas of Darfur affected by fighting has
been restricted in some cases during the reporting period. On 7, 10, 11
and 12 February, Government authorities did not provide flight clearance
to various inter-agency assessment missions in Southern Darfur. These
restrictions were imposed after reports of aerial bombardment in the
region, and as tens of thousands of people were on the move in Shaeria
locality. Access to areas of eastern Jebel Marra has also been
consistently denied during the reporting period, allegedly because of
insecurity.” (page 5)

The UN Security Council report on Adada’s briefing (April 27, 2009)
notes that he admits:

“Due to the insecurity, UNAMID had been unable to visit locations to
assess the impact of the bombardments on the civilian population,
including resulting casualties, destruction of property and
displacements.” (SC/9644)

And yet as part of his justification for characterizing the Darfur war
as “low-intensity conflict,” Adada adduces a figure of only 22
killed in Darfur for all of April 2009. What possible sense can this
make as a mortality figure if access, particularly to militarily
volatile areas, is denied by the regime? or if insecurity prevents
assessments? This is simple mendacity, entirely in character. UNAMID
never, for example, came up with a credible figure for the deaths that
followed from Khartoum’s scorched-earth campaign north of el-Geneina
(February 2008), in which many tens of thousands fled, including a great
number to neighboring Eastern Chad. Similarly there has been no
credible figure for mortality resulting from the violence around
Muhajeria and neighboring villages in January/February 2009---again
involving many tens of thousands of violently displaced persons.

We might also ask why these figures---which don’t include mortality
from disease and malnutrition directly related to antecedent
violence---are given such prominence by those such as Alex de Waal who
find them convenient to their views of the Darfur conflict.
Methodologically there could hardly be a less reliable way of
determining either the scale of mortality or the intensity of conflict.
And yet AU figures are repeatedly cited by de Waal and others as
representative of all of Darfur.

We should also note that Adada makes no mention of the UN High
Commission for Refugees estimate of human displacement for 2008: a total
of 317,000 human beings. Most were non-Arab or African tribal
populations, many displaced for the second or third time---and the large
majority displaced violently. “Low-intensity”? Adada---widely
despised by Darfuris---is attempting to claim credit for achievements
that UNAMID simply has not made, and for protection that UNAMID has not
and cannot offer.

Adada’s report also stands in conflict with a number of reports from
extremely well-informed and credible Darfuri civil society figures.
Here is one communication that came to this writer in April (lightly
edited for typographical and grammatical clarity only):

“The situation in the ground [is] getting worst all the time…apart
from aid givers expulsion and the miserable situation these displaced
are suffering, the government and its militia started to burn the
displaced camps. They burned Aba-Zar IDP camp causing death of two
people and burning more that 600 [dwellings] and burning more than many
women and children who were hospitalized in Al-Genena hospital. The
next was Mornei displaced camps where main humanitarian store was burned
and killed a child. This then moved to Kass IDP camp. This is a
systematic on-going process...and we do not now when this genocide will
stop....” (confidential email, received April 8, 2009)

As partial confirmation of this account, UNAMID (el-Fasher) reported
(March 27, 2009) that:

“A joint team of UNAMID military and police personnel that was
dispatched to the camp to investigate the fire’s cause was informed by
residents that two armed men in military uniform and two others in
civilian clothes were seen entering the camp, starting a fire about
12:30 am, and then fleeing. One female IDP died at the scene and a
22-year-old male IDP died later after being taken to hospital. Three
other seriously injured IDPs are receiving medical treatment at El
Geneina hospital. The blaze spread relatively quickly because of strong
winds at the camp and as many as 1,500 residents were affected by the

So long as such extreme insecurity prevails (and no region is more
insecure than West Darfur), it will be extremely difficult to staff and
maintain a humanitarian presence. The pre-war population of West Darfur
exceeded 1.5 million human beings.


There appears a growing willingness to allow Khartoum to dictate the
terms of humanitarian presence and movement in Darfur, and to allow for
the collapse of significant aid projects in Eastern Sudan and the
southern marginalized areas. This represents capitulation before the
regime’s barbarous acts and continuing defiance. In turn, political
expediency has been re-labeled in ways to draw attention away from the
outrageous threat of human destruction and suffering. De Waal is again

“For Darfur and Sudan, what is needed now is to treat the
[humanitarian] service delivery challenge as a technical issue and shift
the focus of international attention to Sudan’s political process.”
(Social Science Research Council Darfur website, “Attention and
Deterrence,” May 11, 2009)

The notion that “humanitarian service delivery” in Darfur can be
rendered a merely “technical issue” is to ignore the most
conspicuous humanitarian realities of the past five years. It is to
ignore the patently political realities governing all of Khartoum’s
decisions since the expulsions of March 4, 2009. It is to ignore the
nature of the Khartoum regime, and its flagrant disregard for the many
agreements it has signed with the UN and its failure to abide by UN
Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 1591, which bans all
military flights (just yesterday UNAMID reported more aerial attacks in
North Darfur; eyewitness accounts by UNAMID were peremptorily dismissed
by the Sudan Armed Forces [Reuters (dateline: Khartoum), May 13,

It is sheer fantasy to imagine that any decision by the UN or Western
nations to consider humanitarian aid delivery in Darfur a merely
“technical issue” will be reciprocated by Khartoum---a fantasy
with potentially catastrophic implications for the populations of both
the IDP camps and vulnerable rural areas. The fact that Khartoum has
for public relations purposes agreed (for now) to various terms and
conditions that will expedite some aid delivery does not change the
fundamental character of the regime as reflected in its longstanding
hostility to humanitarians and their operations, and to the very
existence of IDP camps.

Much more politically revealing is Khartoum’s recent collapsing of a
major Darfuri civil society initiative, “Mandate Darfur”:

“An ambitious attempt to convene a civil society conference on Darfur
with the aim of building what its organizers call ‘a mandate for
peace’ has been derailed by the Sudanese government. The organizers of
the conference, which was scheduled to take place next week [of May 11],
announced Friday [May 8] that they had cancelled it because Khartoum had
refused to allow Darfurian delegates to travel to Addis Ababa for the

There could be no more striking example of the regime’s contempt for
Darfuri civilians and the essential role of civil society in forging
peace in Sudan. Khartoum much prefers to keep negotiations exclusively
among men with guns---and preferably only the Justice and Equality
Movement. For it has long been obvious that without true representation
of Darfuri civil society, meaningful discussions of fundamental issues
are impossible. Land tenure, migratory rights, compensation for losses,
wealth-sharing and development assistance, meaningful
power-sharing---all are fundamental to a just peace, as opposed to
merely a ceasefire agreement that UNAMID is not nearly prepared to
monitor or enforce.

Sending Khartoum the signal that there is no international political
will to confront the regime’s outrageous actions---which in the first
flush of honesty President Obama rightly described as “not
acceptable”---is to assure the regime that whatever concessions it
makes now, whatever patchwork arrangements it agrees to now, can be
“technically” ignored whenever the moment seems opportune. If
there is only “technical” agreement, then “technical”
adjustments are all too predictable.

The hunger gap has begun, and the rainy season will soon be upon
Darfuris. Leaving them at the mercy of Khartoum’s brutal whims,
vulnerable to “technical” machinations, is yet another deep
betrayal, adding to an ignominy that is already unfathomable.

May 14, 2009

[A follow-up analysis will examine the particular shortcomings of
UNAMID, the extremely ominous violence along the Chad/Darfur border, and
growing threats to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. These threats
include appointment of Ahmed Haroun, indicted by the ICC for crimes
against humanity and war crimes, as governor of Southern Kordofan, the
most likely flash point for renewed north/south conflict.]

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

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