Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Running out of time in Darfur

Excerpt below comes from a piece by Eric Reeves, appearing in The New Republic (11/28/05) that describes the "now or never" predicament of 3.5 million people of Darfur in Sudan, for whom time is running out. It is estimated that 400,000 have already died in Darfur; one wonders whether the "culture of life" rhetoric of the present administration will be backed by the action needed to prevent hundreds of thousands more from dying in this tormented land. If there is any true Christmas spirit here, I hope it will be expressed in the rescue of our brothers and sisters in Sudan.

There is considerable evidence that many humanitarian organizations are on the brink of withdrawing from Darfur--or at least suspending operations. An upsurge in violence against humanitarian workers has pushed many groups to the very limit of tolerable risk. The consequences of such a withdrawal will be stark: hundreds of thousands dead. As a result, the reality facing America and its allies is simple: If we really believe that something should be done to save Darfur, then we have to do it now. Soon, it will be too late to do anything at all. [..]

Eighty-one NGOs and thirteen U.N. agencies currently operate in Darfur, according to the latest U.N. data. These groups have evacuation plans defined by varying contingencies and thresholds for implementation. A year ago, for example, Save the Children UK withdrew its non-Sudanese staff and suspended all operations in Darfur following the deaths of several workers.... But no matter what the threshold for evacuation, the precipitating scenarios are daily becoming more likely. [..]

The first to die will be malnourished children under five years of age, especially those who presently require the assistance of specialized feeding centers. But these casualties will only be harbingers of greater death, both in the overcrowded camps, which are again swelling because of new violence, and throughout the vulnerable rural areas where people are increasingly unable to feed themselves......

Two months ago Jan Egeland, head of U.N. humanitarian operations, warned that if
insecurity "continues to escalate, if it continues to be so dangerous on humanitarian work, we may not be able to sustain our operation[.] ... It could all end tomorrow--it's as serious as that." A year ago, when there were a million fewer conflict-affected people in Darfur, Egeland warned that in the event of humanitarian evacuation as many as 100,000 could die every month..... Hundreds of thousands of people are already beyond humanitarian relief, and the population is weakened by almost three years of intense conflict. The number without assistance may climb to over a million by year's end.

As humanitarian evacuation becomes more likely, the day draws near when the West will have to make its final decision on Darfur. African Union forces have failed to secure the region; and without security, there can be no humanitarian relief. Either America and its western allies put troops on the ground in Darfur soon, or the time to act will have passed. Perhaps 400,000 people have died in Darfur already, but after humanitarian workers leave, those numbers will swell quickly and considerably. After all, while humanitarian workers have an evacuation option, Darfur's residents do not.

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