Saturday, July 10, 2004

Deadly Mismatch: Humanitarian Capacity and Humanitarian Need in Darfur; 

The Obligation of Immediate Humanitarian Intervention

Eric Reeves
July 9, 2004

The genocidal ambitions of Khartoum's National Islamic Front are now rapidly
reaching fruition in Darfur. Systematic destruction of African tribal villages
and agricultural capacity over the past year, massive displacement, pervasive
insecurity, and continued obstruction of humanitarian aid and access---all are
beginning to take a larger daily toll in civilians lives. Indeed, so great is
Khartoum's success that the Darfur catastrophe has finally, with shameful
belatedness, commanded a good deal of international attention. Part of this derives
from recent high-profile visits to Darfur by Kofi Annan and Colin Powell; part
derives from numbers so shockingly large as to have evidently crossed over some
important threshold of newsworthiness.

More than 2.3 million people are now described by the US, the European Union,
and the UN as "war-affected"; 1.2 million are internally displaced, with another
200,000 having fled to Chad as refugees, where many continue to live in
appalling conditions. Over 100,000 have already died and hundreds of thousands more
will die in the coming months. The US Agency for International Development holds
out the ghastly prospect that ten years after genocide in Rwanda claimed some
800,000 lives, genocide in Darfur may claim an even greater number (for the
statistical analyses yielding these data, see US AID "Projected Mortality Rates in
Darfur, Sudan 2004-2005" at
http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf, and
previous reports on "Quantifying Genocide" by this source; available upon

But this increase in attention has not, unfortunately, resulted in a
commensurate increase in an understanding of how the crisis must be addressed, especially
in providing humanitarian assistance to the vast numbers critically in need.
Moreover, there is an ongoing risk that Darfur will be assessed as simply a
humanitarian crisis, rather as the result of systematic criminal efforts by
Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia allies to destroy the African tribal groups of


The most significant consequence of such inadequate understanding is to obscure
the imperative of urgently needed humanitarian intervention. For it is now
clearly the case that current and planned responses by UN and nongovernmental
organizations are simply incapable of saving many hundreds of thousands of
civilians whose lives are at acute risk. Unless there is a near-term humanitarian
intervention, tasked with providing adequate logistical and transport capacity, and
with freeing and protecting those trapped in camps with no humanitarian access,
the overall mortality rates will continue to accelerate uncontrollably.

There are daily signs of a greater and more deadly mismatch between current and
planned humanitarian capacity and overall humanitarian need. Despite increased
efforts by various organizations, food, water, medical, shelter, and hygienic
needs are daily outstripping by a greater margin the resources in place or on
the way (see below). Humanitarian delivery is encountering both familiar and
novel obstacles, fashioned with endlessly callous ingenuity by Khartoum; recent
and unprecedented armed attacks by the Janjaweed on clearly marked humanitarian
convoys create extremely grave new threats to delivery capacity and abilities.
Khartoum's previous blunt obstruction of humanitarian access ensures that its
now more targeted interference will have highly disabling effects.

The failure or refusal to understand the imperative of humanitarian
intervention is best reflected in the responses to Darfur currently debated within the UN.
Present discussion within the UN Security Council grows out of a US proposal to
impose an arms embargo and travel restrictions on the Janjaweed. It is
difficult to imagine a proposal that deals less effectively with the current crisis,
given Khartoum's original recruiting and arming of the Janjaweed, and the
regime's clear and continuing military coordination with the Janjaweed. Germany
earlier this week suggested a broader embargo, targeting the regime as well as the
Janjaweed, but the French simultaneously announced their opposition to any
sanctions regime:

"France expressed doubt Thursday [July 8, 2004] that international sanctions
against Sudan might improve the situation in the violence-wracked western Darfur
region. 'In Darfur, it would be better to help the Sudanese get over the
crisis so their country is pacified rather than sanctions which would push them back
to their misdeeds of old,' junior foreign minister Renaud Muselier told Radio
France Internationale." (Agence France-Presse [Paris], July 8, 2004)

The utter speciousness of such reasoning can hardly be expected to embarrass
the French, but it does offer a glimpse into the difficulties that will confront
any meaningful UN Security Council proposal on sanctions. In turn, the notion
that humanitarian intervention will be authorized by the Security Council under
Chapter VII of the UN Charter seems wholly implausible, as well as governed by
an unacceptably expansive time-frame.

A debate governed by the assumption that sanctions against Khartoum can have a
significant near-term effect on the humanitarian situation in Darfur is simply
a waste of diplomatic energies and time. Such debate presumes a time-frame
that is conspicuously inappropriate to a situation in which 1,000 people,
primarily children, are now dying daily (again, see US AID data at
Humanitarian capacity and access on the ground, not Khartoum's inevitably dilatory
and reneging responses to international pressure, are the issues.


Though in the early stages of the Darfur conflict, perhaps through May of this
year, most deaths were caused by violence, the proportions have now shifted and
people are dying primarily from the effects of malnutrition, especially
vulnerability to disease. Various epidemics can now be predicted with all too great a
certainty; the UN's World Health Organization recently warned:

"Some 10,000 people in Darfur could die of cholera and dysentery in July alone
unless a massive aid operation can be set up to helicopter in food and
medicines. 'We anticipate that if things go ahead as at the moment, 10,000 people will
die in the next month,' David Nabarro, head of the World Health Organization's
unit for health action in crises, told a news briefing in Geneva after a trip
to Darfur." (Reuters, July 2, 2004)

Even greater numbers can be predicted for August and September, especially when
(mosquito-borne) malaria begins to take a huge toll, again especially among
children. The WHO also warned:

"A cholera epidemic could break out within weeks now that heavy rains have
begun, striking 200,000 to 300,000 of the more than one million displaced in the
troubled western area of Sudan, a top WHO official told a news briefing. Cholera
is an extreme form of watery diarrhoea which killed tens of thousands of
Rwandans who fled genocide in 1994, according to the WHO. Dysentery, a bloody form of
diarrhoea which is harder to treat, and malaria, a mosquito-borne disease,
would be expected to follow in August." (Reuters, July 2, 2004)

But there will be no helicopters moving medicine; there is not enough ground
transport capacity for food alone, and this does far too much to explain why the
UN's World Food Program reached only 700,000 of the 1.2 million people in
Darfur targeted for food aid in June. This massive shortfall leaves aside the
inability to provide sufficient food for refugees in camps in Chad, especially in
the northern sector around Bahai. Here we should keep in mind the assessment
offered a month ago by the deputy director of the UN World Food Program in Chad,
Jean-Charles Dei, who warned that the tens of thousands of children and
vulnerable people who have fled to Chad are at extremely acute risk:

"[Dei] said the rains would also bring inevitable outbreaks of disease,
including cholera and measles. 'There will be a tragedy if nothing happens. [ ] I
don't think any of the children under the age of five will make it, and the
pregnant women too. For those who are under five there is no chance. They will die
from starvation.'" (The Scotsman [dateline: Chad/Darfur border], June 10, 2004)

There have been a series of extremely consequential mistakes in planning and
execution by the UN World Food Program, the most basic lying in the terrible
failure to pre-position substantial foodstocks in anticipation of the current level
of crisis. For in addition to the 1.2 million people targeted for food in
June, and the 200,000 in Chad clearly in need of food assistance, we must keep in
mind the much larger and ominously growing figure of 2.3 million "war-affected"
persons. The number was 2.2 million at the beginning of June, when it was
contained in a joint UN, US, European Union communiqué in Geneva. It has certainly
grown by at least 100,000 in the last month (some aid officials say privately
by a much greater number). The vast majority of these people also need food aid
now, though with of course varying degrees of urgency (and 1,000 will die today
and no longer need food at all).

The World Food Program raises its estimate of food need to this level only for
October---three months from now. But the two million presently hungry people
cannot eat WFP estimates. They have exhausted or stretched to the breaking
point any food reserves, as well as the food reserves of family or kinspeople to
whom they may have fled. Even those people who have not been displaced are
unable to plant or harvest, and are becoming part of the food-dependent population.
Because agricultural activities have come to a standstill, there has been no
significant food harvested in Darfur for months; and because of the insecurity
created by the Janjaweed, there has been no spring planting, and thus there will
be no fall harvest. A fall/winter planting looks increasingly unlikely.

In short, the more than 2 million people presently in need of food aid will
only become more severely malnourished globally until there is a clear means of
providing the 35,000 metric tons of food required on a monthly basis for a
population of this size. And the number in October may be much closer to 3 million
than 2.2 million.

The transport capacity for such food deliveries to and within the Darfur
region---leaving aside medical, shelter, water purification, and other non-food
items--simply does not exist. Moreover, the entire operation in Darfur has become
mired in what Jan Egeland recently described as "the biggest logistical
nightmare the humanitarian community has been facing in a very long time" (Reuters,
July 7, 2004). Because of poor planning, slow financial response from donor
nations, and Khartoum's relentless obstruction of aid and personnel, there is now a
fundamental mismatch between humanitarian capacity and humanitarian need; and
the mismatch is only growing more deadly.


This is the context in which to consider Khartoum's continued efforts to
obstruct humanitarian aid (the regime still insists, for example, on testing in
Sudanese labs an inordinate percentage of incoming medical supplies, despite the
utterly desperate need for these medical supplies in the field; other bureaucratic
obstacles, small and large, abound, though they are deployed with more cunning
than six months ago). But far and away the most disturbing recent news
concerning humanitarian access and capacity are the reports of attacks by the
Janjaweed on well-marked humanitarian convoys in Darfur:

"On Tuesday [July 6, 2004], a UN spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, had told reporters
in New York that despite [Khartoum's] 3 July [2004] pledge, armed men had
continued to attack humanitarian convoys in Darfur. 'Military personnel, uniformed
men and "unidentified persons on camels" stopped and attacked clearly marked
convoys of humanitarian workers in the west and north of Sudan's volatile Darfur
region,' Okabe said."
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 8, 2004)

The US Agency for International Development "fact sheet" on Darfur (July 9,
2004) reports:

"On June 29 [2004], an eight-truck U.N. convoy transporting blankets, jerry
cans, soap, and plastic sheeting from Nyala to Mornei and Geneina was attacked by
Jingaweit militia between Sisi and Zalingei. An assistant driver was killed and
two other drivers injured in the attack, and WFP reported that at least 350
blankets were stolen." (US AID, "Darfur: Humanitarian Emergency---Fact Sheet,"
July 9, 2004)

The attacks described here are clearly by the Janjaweed. Though any attack on
humanitarian personnel and equipment is of enormous significance, the
significance in Darfur extends well beyond these individual attacks. For now UN and
nongovernmental organizations will rightly and understandably demand significantly
greater security for all transportation. Since security capacity is already
stretched far too thinly, the effect will be to diminish the overall number of
convoys and significantly attenuate transport capacity. The effects can be seen
clearly in a statement reported today by Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the director
for Sudan for the U.N.'s World Food Program

"[Ramiro Lopes da Silva] said in a telephone interview that 32 trucks with
more than 2,000 tons of food and a train with 33 cars of supplies are stuck
outside the south Darfur town of Nyala [capital of South Darfur], 'waiting for
security to improve.'" (USA Today, July 9, 2004)

Given the urgency of such supplies, the African Union (AU) military force of
300 troops, set to be deployed to Darfur to protect the currently immobilized
cease-fire monitors, may find that the task of escorting humanitarian convoys more
than exhausts its capacity, if in fact this effort is permitted by Khartoum (a
thoroughly doubtful assumption). But such a force, though representing a
welcome African initiative, cannot in any event fulfill the various security
requirements all too evident throughout Darfur: protecting cease-fire monitors,
monitoring the situation along the highly volatile Chad/Darfur border, protecting
humanitarian convoys, and offering security to vulnerable civilians. This latter
task was, significantly, declared within the mandate of the AU force by
Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and the African Union's chief civil servant, AU Commission
chairman Alpha Oumar Konare:

"[Both Obasanjo and Konare] said after the summit closed on Thursday that the
protection force could not stand idly by if they saw civilians being attacked.
Konare's spokesman maintained that position on Friday. 'The primary
responsibility for protecting the displaced people rests with the Sudanese government, but
in the event of attacks on the displaced, I doubt that the military protection
force will remain inactive,' [spokesman] Adam Thiam told Reuters." (Reuters,
July 9, 2004)

But as Reuters also reports:

"Some diplomats worry about the possibility of clashes between an AU force and
troops of Sudan, a member state, which could provoke Khartoum into expelling
all AU personnel and lead to the collapse of peace talks with Darfur rebel
groups. 'The consequences of unilateral action---imagine a Nigerian or Rwandan
soldier shooting a Janjaweed (militiaman) or a state security man---could be the
immediate expulsion of the AU force,' one diplomat said." (Reuters, July 9, 2004)

This threat of expulsion must be carefully anticipated now, with a clear plan
of diplomatic response. Further, the African Union must be encouraged, despite
the very modest size of this force, to stay the course, and to be given
vigorous international support. If there are transport or communications equipment
needs, these should be provided on a highly expedited basis.

But the larger problems of security will remain largely untouched by the
presence of the AU force. For it remains the case that the nominal cease-fire of
April 8, 2004 is in tatters. Large-scale fighting, including Khartoum's use of
its aerial military assets (helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers), continues.
The UN High Commission for Refugees issued a press release from Geneva on July
6, 2004, declaring:

"Despite a ceasefire signed in April between the Sudanese government and two
rebel groups, fighting in Sudan's Darfur region continues to displace civilians
who say they are innocent victims. Our staff in Nyala, the capital of South
Darfur, report that in the last few days, more than 100 desperate people---women,
children and some men---made a dramatic journey on foot and on commercial
flatbed trucks through heavy fighting to reach Kalma camp, near Nyala.

"They came from the region south-east of Nyala, where the Sudanese government
and janjaweed militia last week reportedly launched an offensive against
territory largely held by the rebel group, SLA (Sudan Liberation Army). The displaced
people tell a tale that has become familiar in 16 months of fighting. They say
their villages were bombed by Antonov aircraft and helicopter gunships. After
that, they tell us, armed men in pickup trucks and on horseback and camelback
killed men, women and children, raped women, stole their possessions and animals,
and burned down their homes." (UN High Commission for Refugees [Geneva], July
6, 2004)

Such fighting, reported by many sources, not only puts large numbers of
civilians beyond the reach of humanitarian access for reasons of security, it works to
convince the displaced populations that the larger situation in rural Darfur
remains far too dangerous to contemplate a return to their villages (most of
which are completely destroyed, including tukuls, foodstocks, fruit trees, water
supplies, seedstocks, agricultural implements). This in turn makes it
exceedingly difficult to see how the next planting seasons (fall/winter) can be
successful; food dependency will then extend well into late 2005, and longer, for a
tremendously large and increasingly weakened population.

If we want to understand the meaning behind assessments of the sort very
recently offered by US Agency for International Development Assistant Administrator
Roger Winter---"unless there is a dramatic turnaround, we can expect in the
neighborhood of 350,000 deaths [by] the end of this calendar year" (Voice of
America, July 8, 2004)---we need to look at the massive insecurity in Darfur,
Khartoum's relentless obstruction of humanitarian access, and the sheer lack of
capacity on the part of present and planned humanitarian efforts.


Colin Powell yesterday expressed growing frustration with the Khartoum regime:

"Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the Sudanese government has yet
to follow through on promises to help those in the Darfur region who are
'imperiled by violence, starvation and disease. We need immediate improvement,'
Powell said, warning that a Sudanese failure to act could lead to tough U.N.
Security Council sanctions against the country's Islamic government." (Associated
Press, July 8, 2004)

But besides revealing a disturbing naiveté about the cruelty and
incorrigibility of the National Islamic Front, Powell here buys into the notion that the
threat of sanctions will somehow shape Khartoum's behavior in ways that can help
those "imperiled by violence, starvation and disease." This is either ignorance
or expediency. The US has already imposed on Khartoum every meaningful
sanction available; the French have already indicated they are ready to fight any UN
proposal that might put in place meaningful international sanctions; and the
slow effects of any sanctions regime make this a wholly inappropriate tool in the
present context.

What is clearly required is humanitarian intervention. The immediate tasks are
twofold, and can save hundreds of thousands of lives: [1] protection for those
in camps and other population concentrations without humanitarian access and
too often fully under the brutal control of the Janjaweed; [2] provision of very
substantially augmented transport capacity and logistical support, including a
full internationalizing of the rail-line from Port Sudan on the Red Sea through
to Nyala in Darfur (substantial rail-line repairs would have to be made,
especially on the western sections, as well as repair to rail cars; locomotive
engines may have to be imported by sea to ensure the rail-line is used to full

Military force will be required for both tasks. In the wake of American
commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US role will necessarily be in the areas of
logistics, emergency training, train repairs, and emergency back-up. Troop
deployments should build on the African Union bridgehead; and again, this
presently very modest force must be given all possible support, especially in the form
of needed transport and communications equipment.

Further military deployments could come from other African countries (in
addition to Rwanda and Nigeria, Namibia, Ghana, and Senegal were discussed at the
recent AU summit, for example); and the embryonic European Union rapid-response
battle groups, agreed to by EU defense ministers in May 2004, offer another
possibility. Though these battle groups are not scheduled for deployment until
2007, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana declared explicitly at the time of the
announcement that protecting a humanitarian mission in Darfur would be a good
example of the mission for these rapid-response forces.

Could there not be accelerated formation of a battle group to serve this
present urgent need?

The US, its European allies, Canada, in concert with the African Union and
other concerned nations, should begin urgent plans for such humanitarian
intervention. The mismatch between humanitarian capacity and humanitarian need continues
to grow, even as mortality rates continue a rapid movement upwards. A debate
about sanctions is now a pointless exercise: any sanctions regime would be
completely ineffectual as a response to urgent human need on the ground.


The Khartoum regime has proved over 15 years that it is utterly contemptuous of
African lives. In addition to waging savagely, deliberately, gratuitously
destructive war on the people of southern Sudan during its entire time in power,
the regime gives many other signs of such contempt. We have only to note
yesterday's report from the humanitarian group Medair that the regime is going
forward, at the start of the rainy season, with its plan to destroy the homes and
shelters of displaced southerners living in camps on the outskirts of Khartoum:

"The [demolition] process so far has targeted Wadi El Bashir and Omdurman
El-Salaam camps. To date an estimated 11,700 houses in Wadi El Bashir [camp] and
24,500 houses in the Omdurman El-Salaam [camp] have been demolished." (Medair,
via Reuters Alert, July 8, 2004)

The result is that "at least 15,000 homes remain without [even plastic
sheeting]," and "the majority of people are still living in temporary shelters, few
people have access to latrines" (Medair, via Reuters Alert, July 8, 2004).

The same attitude of racist contempt lies behind genocidal destruction in
Darfur. If the world refuses to see this fundamental reality, if it dithers in
debates about sanctions, if we refuse to accept the challenges of the most urgent
humanitarian tasks at hand, it will not be because we did not know what was
happening or what needed to be done. It will because we ourselves, acquiescing in
the face of political obstacles, judged these African lives not worth saving.
It is difficult to imagine an uglier truth for history to record, but history
will have no choice.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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