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Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Scale of the Human Catastrophe in Darfur: Staggering Mortality Rates Predicted by USAID Over the Next Year 

Eric Reeves
April 15, 2004

As terrible as human suffering and destruction in Darfur is presently, research published today by the US Agency for International Development (US AID) suggests that we haven't begun to see the truly horrific consequences of Khartoum's genocidal war on the African peoples of the region (see data at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf). Projections reaching to April 2005 indicate that "Crude Mortality Rates" for a population of over 6 million people may reach to 20 human beings per day per population of 10,000 in the period from October to December 2004. To gain a sense of perspective on this painfully austere statistic, we should bear in mind that one person per day per 10,000 is considered the "emergency" threshold; two persons per day per 10,000 is considered a "situation out of control"; and four persons per day per 10,000 is considered a "major catastrophe."

The US AID figures point to a mortality rate five times as great as the "major catastrophe" threshold.

We know that there are already areas in which mortality rates are very high. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres declared in February that it was encountering "catastrophic mortality rates" in the camps in which they were treating victims of the conflict in western Darfur. But to this point, though disease, malnutrition, and lack of water have been extremely serious issues, most of the casualties of the war have been victims of violence---victims of the savagely destructive military predations of Khartoum's forces and its Janjaweed militias.

But the death rates will soar with an increase in what is called the "Global Acute Malnutrition" (GAM) rate. The figures from US AID indicate that the GAM rate will increase to 25-30% of the population of Darfur by the beginning of July. Notably, in Darfur's annual rainy season, July and August are the months which receive the most rainfall; this will make many road corridors impassable, and the possible delivery of humanitarian aid that much more difficult. The GAM rate is projected to increase to 40% by November/December 2004. It will then decline, but only---as US AID grimly notes---because vulnerable children will have died in such large numbers.

It is in this November/December 2004 period that US AID indicates that the Crude Mortality Rate will reach 20 human beings per day per 10,000 people in the surviving population of Darfur---five times the threshold for a "major catastrophe." This is the stage at which we may rightly speak of a major famine, and the ghastly US AID conclusion is that, "the
Crude Mortality Rate will decrease as people die or migrate out; the cumulative death rate would be approximately 30% of the vulnerable group over a 9-month period." All this will be the direct result of the deliberate manner in which Khartoum and its Arab militia allies have chosen to wage war in Darfur.

Indeed, since the war has been conducted in such deliberate fashion by Khartoum and the Janjaweed, we should recall a key clause from the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. For one of the "acts" specified as a means of intentionally "destroying, in whole or in part" an ethnic group is "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" (Article 2, Clause [c], 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).

Bombing, blowing up, and contaminating water wells and water irrigation systems; destroying foodstuffs, seeds, and agricultural implements; burning crops; denying access to arable land; massive looting of cattle; displacement of people from the only land they know; intimidation by means of rape, torture, extrajudicial killings, mass murder, and the
abduction of children: all of these have been directed against the African peoples of Darfur, "as such." The aggregate effect is to have "inflicted" on these African tribal groups---primarily the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa, but others as well---"conditions of life calculated to bring about [their] physical destruction in whole or in part."

Though cast in terms of "Global Acute Malnutrition" rates and "Crude Mortality Rates," the US AID figures are actually projections of the consequences of destruction that has taken place over past months. In short, the genocide has already occurred. We are simply waiting for the full effects of the genocidal acts to result in all too predictable
masses of corpses, numbering ultimately in the hundreds of thousands if US AID is right in speaking of a "cumulative death rate that is approximately 30% of the vulnerable group over a 9-month period."

The degree to which this massive genocidal destruction can be mitigated is unclear, both for reasons of logistical difficulties and ignorance about what is happening in rural Darfur, especially in the growing number of concentration camps controlled by the Janjaweed. There is also uncertainty about the nature of this season's rains. But the largest uncertainty is of course international resolve to respond to the impending consequences of these genocidal acts by Khartoum and its militia allies. With sufficient resources and resolve---including the resolve to protect militarily civilians and humanitarian workers and assets---this ghastly future can be changed in significant ways. (US AID assumptions about the nature of international humanitarian response were governed by circumstances that obtained as of the April 8, 2004 signing of the cease-fire in N'Djamena, Chad.)

But the evidence continues to pour in that the international response is already woefully belated, and still reveals none of the appropriate urgency or resolve. Khartoum's recalcitrance is yet to be confronted in a truly serious way. This is the context in which we must understand the regime's refusal to allow a critical (and widely reported) UN
humanitarian assessment mission to Darfur to move forward in a timely way. In a letter sent today to his UN colleagues, Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland reports that "the high-level mission to Darfur that I had planned to lead has been postponed. The Sudanese authorities have asked for more time to prepare it. I regret this delay
as the mission was ready to depart today" (text of letter received in an e-mail transmission, April 15, 2004).

As the world's greatest humanitarian crisis accelerates---a crisis characterized by what Egeland himself has described as "ethnic cleansing" and "scorched-earth tactics" directed against defenseless civilians---Khartoum has denied timely access to the most senior UN official in charge of humanitarian affairs, asserting that it needs "more time to prepare." Can there be any doubt that this "preparation" is anything other than a desperate effort to destroy evidence of this "ethnic cleansing," indeed genocide?

Here we should also recall that Khartoum has still not permitted the UN's four-person human rights investigating team into Darfur---a denial now over a week old.

The lack of vigorous international condemnation of Khartoum for this inexcusable and systematic obstructionism augurs extremely poorly for future monitoring access, for humanitarian access, and for the security that will be required to protect any monitoring regime or humanitarian presence in many areas.

Meanwhile, there is rapidly increasing evidence of the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Darfur and on the Chad border. UN Reuters reported several days ago from Iriba, Chad ("U.N. Workers Say Sudan Refugee Crisis Has Grown Critical"):

"'Thousands of refugees from Sudan risk being stranded on the border with Chad and exposed to attacks by militiamen unless they can be ferried to camps before the rainy season starts, aid workers said over the weekend. 'We need more vehicles, petrol and food,' Emile Belem, who heads the United Nations refugee agency office in Iriba, said Saturday. 'My opinion is that we underestimated the situation here and the response has come too late.'" (Reuters, April 12, 2004)

Today (April 15, 2004), Reuters gives us a more particular glimpse into the whelming disaster from the Chad/Sudan border at Tine:

"Sudanese refugees who fled fierce fighting to Chad say Sudanese soldiers are preventing them from returning home and in some instances have beat back women searching for food and firewood. There are at least 7,000 black African refugees living in crude shelters on the Chadian side of the dusty border town of Tine after being hounded out of
Sudan's western Darfur region by bombing raids and government-backed Arab militias. [ ]

"[Sudanese soldiers denied they had stopped refugees from crossing back into Sudan,] but groups of refugees standing on the other side of the border, where Chadian troops patrol in pickup trucks, disagreed. 'They have tried to go back to get food from their homes because there is nothing here,' said another teacher, Shrief Ishag, 45. 'If it is a
woman, she will be punished or even raped. If it is a man, he will be killed.'" (Reuters, [Tine, Chad/Sudan border] April 15, 2004)

The international humanitarian response is all too conspicuously inadequate even in Chad, let alone in Darfur itself. Reuters also reports today from the Tine area:

"'The main problem here is water. People can't find any that they can drink. And there is no food. Only those who get to the camps get food,' said Abdulayeh Saleh, the Red Cross co-ordinator for the region around Tine and Bahai." (Reuters [Tine, Chad/Sudan border], April 15, 2004)

But humanitarian relief inside Darfur must be the priority; for a majority of this increasingly distressed population still has no access whatsoever to humanitarian assistance. The cease-fire between Khartoum and the two major insurgency groups in Darfur (the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement) has so far given no evidence of
meaningfully increasing humanitarian access or mitigating a catastrophe that continues to accelerate. In a release today, Amnesty International notes:

"The cease-fire agreement of 8 April [2004] is an important step but remains largely insufficient, if the government does not immediately give access to humanitarian agencies and international human rights monitors. This must include monitors who are trained to deal with issues relating to sexual violence." (Amnesty International Press Release [London], April 15, 2004)

There is no sign of such access, or the international commitment to insist upon it.

Amnesty rightly highlights the need to respond to terrible and ongoing sexual violence in Darfur, which provides further evidence of how the war is being waged:

"Alarming reports about the systematic rape of hundreds of women by the government backed armed militia, the Janjawid, have been coming from Darfur region in western Sudan over the past months, demonstrating the need for the international community to step up its pressure on the government. The Sudanese government must take urgent steps to address the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Darfur."

"We have received countless reports of women being raped by the Janjawid militia. The long-term effects of these crimes can be seen in countries like Rwanda where many women and children remain traumatized and live with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, following the systematic rape during the genocide 10 years ago. We have
also received unconfirmed reports that many women and girls have been abducted to be used as sexual slaves or domestic workers." (Amnesty International Press Release[London], April 15, 2004)

Human Rights Watch also spoke about the cease-fire yesterday, noting that it "requires immediate and rigorous international monitoring to avert a humanitarian disaster and continued civilian displacement" (Human Rights Watch Press Release [New York], April 14, 2004).

Even so, the absence of such monitoring is one of the most conspicuous features of the cease-fire negotiated last week in N'Djamena, Chad:

"The absence of a monitoring component is a striking defect given that the looming humanitarian crisis is the direct result of gross human rights violations committed by the government and its Arab janjaweed militias." (Human Rights Watch Press Release [New York], April 14, 2004)

[Agence France-Presse is reporting today on serious alleged violations of the cease-fire, though without monitors these are impossible to verify:

"Militias backing the Khartoum government have violated a ceasefire in Sudan's western Darfur region, killing 32 civilians, a rebel group charged Thursday. Colonel Abdallah Abdel Karim, military spokesman of the Justice and Equality Movement (MJE), said Janjawid militiamen and government troops had torched villages northwest of the Darfur state
capital Geneina near the border with Chad on Wednesday. Karim, who was speaking to AFP in the Gabonese capital Libreville by satellite telephone and said he was in Darfur, added that the 32 people allegedly killed in the raids were 'mostly women, elderly and children.'" (Agence France-Presse, April 15, 2004)]

But despite the absence of monitoring, the general course of events is all too clear from present reports and accounts:

"Human Rights Watch research and reports from Darfur indicate that even after civilians have fled into camps and larger towns, the militias continue to prey on them. Incidents of summary executions, rape, and looting of displaced civilians have been reported from camps and settlements under militia control. Without protection and greatly increased humanitarian assistance, displaced civilians risk dying from epidemics and man-made famine." (Human Rights Watch Press Release [New York], April 14, 2004)

Human Rights Watch also rightly emphasizes that, "Without the international spotlight, the Sudanese government is unlikely to disarm and disband its Arab militia, re-establish security in the rural areas, or guarantee the safety of displaced persons who wish to return home for planting season---crucial benchmarks for any improvement in the situation. The government will only reverse the displacement that it has caused under intense, sustained international pressure." (Human Rights Watch Press Release [New York], April 14,
2004)

But Khartoum's brazen and extremely disturbing delay of the urgent assessment mission of the UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, along with the continued blocking of a UN human rights investigative team, suggests just how far the international community is from bringing about "intense, sustained pressure." And until such pressure is fully
exerted, Darfur will continue to slide down its present catastrophic course, and the genocide will be ever more completely accomplished.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
ereeves@smith.edu

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