Friday, April 30, 2004

The World Has Failed Again.  

Darfur Now Presents a Ghastly Question:
Will the Deaths be Tens of Thousands...or Hundreds of Thousands?

Eric Reeves
April 30, 2004

Despite all evidence demanding humanitarian intervention, despite a
searing moral clarity, Khartoum's genocidal war on the African peoples
of Darfur has now fully precipitated a massive and irreversible
humanitarian crisis. There can no longer be anything approaching an
adequate humanitarian response in present circumstances. The vast scale
of the crisis forces the grimmest of questions: Will the death toll in
Darfur over the next 12 months be measured in tens of thousands of
deaths? or will it be measured in hundreds of thousands?

Honesty and moral decency demand that we first accept that this ghastly
question has become inevitable: no actions can now avert catastrophe.
But only the most urgent, resourceful, and robust humanitarian
intervention can prevent the present catastrophe from generating the
cataclysmic numbers that defined the Rwandan genocide. The
international community has waited too long, the words have come too
late---and the actions that such words now demand are even more belated.
War in Darfur, as deliberately and relentlessly conducted by Khartoum's
regular forces and Janjaweed militia allies, has now so fully
compromised food production, has so deeply disrupted humanitarian relief
efforts, has so traumatized the agriculturally productive civilians of
the African tribal peoples of the region, that famine is inevitable.

Their deaths will come not from machetes but from the far more
agonizing death of starvation---starvation that will typically entail
parents watching their children slowly, painfully die. And then they
will die themselves. Others will die from cholera, measles, and a host
of water-borne diseases that will proliferate uncontrollably with the
onset of the rains, especially in overcrowded concentration camps
lacking all sanitary facilities. These same rains will sever the ground
transport arteries for foodstocks and medical supplies. Presently
prepositioned supplies are not remotely adequate for the more than 1
million people already dependent on international aid, even as the vast
majority of these people are beyond any humanitarian access. Access
remains impossible both because of Khartoum's continuing obstructionism
and travel-permit denials, and because the regime has not controlled or
disarmed the Janjaweed.

These increasingly brutal militias, working in close concert with
Khartoum, are clearly not respecting in any meaningful way the
cease-fire Khartoum signed in N'Djamena (Chad) on April 8, 2004.
Refugees fleeing from the predations of the Janjaweed continue to stream
into Chad. Numerous reports, from highly reliable sources---in Darfur
and along the Chad/Sudan border---confirm that insecurity remains
extreme throughout Darfur. The same assessment is offered by UN and
humanitarian officials in private communications. Indeed, on the basis
of very considerable evidence, Amnesty International reported today that
despite the cease-fire that was to have taken effect on April 12, 2004:

"civilians continue to suffer human rights abuses and are in a
desperate humanitarian situation. Attacks on villages continue;
indiscriminate and deliberate killings of civilians continue; looting
continues and rapes continue. Most detainees imprisoned because of the
conflict have not been released. [ ]

"Most villages in Darfur have now been destroyed and the population
hardly dares to leave the displacement camps. The Janjawid
(government-supported militia) block the roads and even invade the
camps. In Ardamata camp for displaced people near al-Jeneina town,
Janjawid are reported to enter openly and choose women to rape.

"Furthermore, the conflict is in danger of spreading. On 28 April
[2004] Sudanese planes bombed Kolbus village in Chad and the Janjawid
attacked refugees and Chadian civilians across the border." (Amnesty
International, Public Statement, April 30, 2004)

Senior UN officials, US officials, humanitarian workers, and others are
also indicating that Khartoum has not begun to disarm the extremely
heavily armed Janjaweed---forces originally armed by Khartoum and still
clearly doing Khartoum's savage military work.

As a consequence of the insecurity created by the Janjaweed, there is
now simply no chance that the African tribal groups of Darfur will be
able to plant in time before the onset of the rains. Such planting must
be accomplished in the next week or two, and yet the areas to which
these people would have to return to plant remain Janjaweed killing
fields. As a result, there will be no significant harvest next fall.
It is this that ensures famine, and the terrible conclusions of the US
Agency for International Development's "Projected Mortality Rates in
Darfur, Sudan 2004-2005" (see data at

The key assumptions guiding the assembly of this data continue to hold:
highly constrained humanitarian access and a critical planting season
missed because of insecurity. The presumed "vulnerable population"
recently stood at 1.2 million; this number continues to grow. Thus the
grim arithmetic: next December, when the consequences of famine are at
their peak, people will be dying at a rate of 20 people per day per
10,000 in this vulnerable population. Put more starkly, 2,500 people
will starve, or die from increased vulnerability to disease, every day.

They will be dying in agony, and too many will have endured the
unfathomable agony of watching their own children starve to death. Vast
human destruction, produced by extraordinary levels of global acute
malnutrition, will continue through April of 2005, when 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 nine-month period" (US AID "Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur,
Sudan 2004-2005").

The grimmest statistical conclusion here is that more than 300,000
people will die.

We have permitted this. We can no longer stop the famine Khartoum has
engineered. The genocide has been accomplished.

What can be done? We must first of all recall the words of Mukesh
Kapila, UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, uttered urgently over a
month ago---when there was still a slim chance of averting catastrophe:

"'The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers
involved' [said Kapila]." (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
March 22, 2004)

The only difference..."now."

"[Conflict in Darfur] is more than just a conflict, it is an organised
attempt to do away with a group of people." (UN Integrated Regional
Information Networks, March 22, 2004)

These words are now, belatedly, registering. But the urgent dispatches
by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, written from the
Chad/Darfur border at the end of March, posed a test that has already
been failed:

"Darfur is not a case when we can claim, as the world did after the
Armenian, Jewish and Cambodian genocides, that we didn't know how bad it
was. Sudan's refugees tell of mass killings and rapes, of women branded,
of children killed, of villages burned---yet Sudan's government just
stiffed new peace talks that began last night in Chad."

"This is not just a moral test of whether the world will tolerate
another genocide. It's also a practical test of the ability of African
and Western governments alike to respond to incipient civil wars while
they can still be suppressed. Africa's future depends on the outcome,
and for now it's a test we're all failing." (New York Times, March 31,

We are not failing; we have failed. The verb tense has changed
profoundly in the last month.

The US representative to the Geneva travesty that was the annual
meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ambassador Richard
Williamson, wrote recently:

"African countries and the entire world must decide if we will act to
try to stop the genocide in Darfur or if we will respond with silence
and inaction as we did in Rwanda 10 years ago. To fail to act is morally
(Chicago Sun-Times, April 11, 2004)

But we have decided; we have failed to act, as we failed in Rwanda; and
it is indeed morally indefensible. We have all too fully justified
Samantha Power's recently expressed fear that "in 10 years we'll be
sitting on a similar panel discussing Sudan's genocide" (Rwanda hearing,
International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives,
Washington, DC; the Washington File [US State Department], April 27,


It remains, then, first to accept our moral failure. But we must also
do all that is possible to diminish the scale of the impending
catastrophe. This catastrophe cannot be averted, but it can be
substantially mitigated. The challenges are immense, however, even if we
presume full international political resolve. There is no evidence to
support such presumption.


Road transportation of food supplies from central Chad to the
Chad/Sudan border and Darfur will shortly end. An authoritative
assessment on this issue, received by this writer today from Chad,

[1] Once the rainy season begins, the 650-kilometer road running east
from N'Djamena (Chad's capital) to Abeche (near the Chad/Sudan border)
will be cut, as it is each year, as the "wadis" (dry channels that fill
with water during the rainy season) are deepened by the floods that come
with the rains;

[2] The 150-kilometer road is from Abeche to the Chad/Sudan border is
not at all good, even outside the rainy season. It presently takes five
hours to cover this distance;

[3] The critical sections in this road are just to the east of Abeche,
but there are wadis on north/south and northwest/southwest axes along
the entire course of the road. It will shortly be impassable.

Air transport.

There is a serviceable airstrip in Abeche (as well as a French military
base with 200 troops); this airstrip can handle medium-sized air
transport planes, but apparently not the giant Hercules aircraft that
are the backbone of any World Food Program airlift operation. These
larger aircraft would have to fly from El Obeid in Kordofan Province in
Sudan (well to the east of Darfur).

Some will imagine that air drops of food are an alternative to ground
transport; this is impractical for a number of reasons. There is first
of all the prohibitive cost of airlifting food for 1 million people over
as much as a year, given other humanitarian needs in the world. There
is simply no money for such a massively expensive operation. Indeed,
the present estimated costs of humanitarian response in Darfur, a
response which doesn't begin to contemplate such an unprecedented
airlift operation, are far from receiving donor commitments.

Moreover, air transport of food is only in the most exceptional of
cases simply the uncontrolled and unmonitored dumping of food from the
air. Typically, food is airlifted to where there are humanitarian
monitors and other personnel on the ground. But insecurity on the
ground in Darfur makes this normal practice impossible. Indeed, so long
as Khartoum continues to allow the Janjaweed its "rein of terror" (the
phrase comes from the April 2004 UN human rights report on Darfur), food
drops would simply be a means of feeding these deadly militias, and
would make of the intended recipients more inviting targets.

Neither continued road transport from Chad nor exclusive reliance on
the airlifting of aid are possible or practicable, given present
circumstances in Darfur.

But we must not turn away from the shameful truth: airlifting food aid
has come to be seen as the only transport means available because we did
not act in the urgent ways demanded by realities clearly in evidence
months ago in Darfur.

An alternative.

There is an alternative, though one that will require political resolve
of a sort not remotely in evidence to this point in the Darfur crisis.
A rail transport line runs from Port Sudan on the Red Sea through El
Obeid (400 kilometers southwest of Khartoum) and on to Nyala, in the
very center of Darfur. This rail line must be made the major artery for
humanitarian supplies. From Nyala, the transporting of food and medical
aid would become, if not fully practicable throughout Darfur,
tremendously more effective, efficient, and rapidly targeted to the most
distressed populations. The Darfur road system could be used as the
rains permitted. Air transport would also be over relatively shorter

A critical component here will be the introduction of a meaningful
peacekeeping force, one capable of confronting the Janjaweed in any
attacks on civilians. This would permit the establishment of secure
areas for humanitarian purposes, particularly aid delivery. Such a
force is also necessary to monitor the nominal cease-fire, which
presently is completely unmonitored, and has no provision for meaningful
monitoring. Insecurity is the greatest long-term threat to Darfur
(though the systematic destruction of water sources, cattle, seeds,
agricultural implements, and foodstocks will require sustained efforts
at reconstruction and re-stocking). The international community must
immediately begin to diminish this threat with a robust peacekeeping
force, with or without Khartoum's acquiescence.

Whatever the political difficulties of such a plan, we are morally
obligated to keep in mind that many tens of thousands, perhaps as many
as over two hundred thousand human beings can be saved. The can be
saved if the international community finds the moral nerve to demand of
Khartoum regime the following, per a resolution of the UN Security
Council or by way of multilateral determination and action:

"Effective immediately, we demand that the rail line running from Port
Sudan through El Obeid and on to Nyala be made fully available for the
movement of international humanitarian aid, including food, medicine,
shelter, agricultural supplies, and humanitarian personnel. Absolute
priority must be given to humanitarian transport needs. Failure to
accede in this demand will trigger an international response that will
forcefully secure the rail line for these humanitarian purposes."

Such a dramatic action would require further stipulations:

[1] Khartoum must be informed that the trains will not be allowed to
carry any military equipment or supplies that are related to the
military efforts by the regime's regular or militia forces;

[2] There must as a consequence be monitors on the trains, enjoying
all necessary security---including, if necessary, military protection;

[3] There must be no militia forces accompanying the trains as they
move into the Darfur region (such accompaniment of trains by the
murahaleen has been a deeply disturbing feature of the infamous spur of
the rail line running from Babanusa southward to Wau in Bahr

[4] American train parts will be needed to repair Sudan's trains,
presently functioning very poorly because of US sanctions that prevent
such parts from being transferred to Sudan. President George Bush must
declare through the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) an
exemption from US sanctions for train parts, with the provision that
this exemption will last only as long as the humanitarian operation in
Darfur continues. At the end of this time, US train parts (which must
be comprehensively cataloged) will be removed unless US sanctions have
been lifted.

To be sure, this would be a dramatic and decisive infringement upon the
"national sovereignty" that Khartoum would inevitably assert. But the
tyrannical National Islamic Front regime neither represents the people
of Sudan nor has any morally legitimate claim in speaking of "national
sovereignty." Having engaged in massive crimes against humanity and
acts of genocide, having thereby deliberately precipitated what is
almost universally described as the world's greatest humanitarian
crisis, we acquiesce before Khartoum's assertion of "national
sovereignty" to our shame and with the clear consequence that perhaps
hundreds of thousands of people will die.

We have already failed, failed profoundly, the people of Darfur. The
question now is how greatly we will compound this failure. Our disgrace
deepens daily.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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