Darfur: No Way Forward from a Dangerous and Unsustainable Situation

The "Doha Peace Process" ends without significant achievement; humanitarian needs remain unassessed and unaddressed; insecurity remains intolerable for most of Darfur; and the threat of forced returns of Internally Displaced Persons grows steadily, as violence and deprivation are directed against IDP camps by Khartoum

By Eric Reeves

August 30, 2011 (SSNA) — As news coverage of the vast human suffering and destruction in Darfur continues to diminish—as international reporting remains the province of disingenuous officials of the UN and UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)—the world seems to have lost sight of what only a few years were widely perceived as pressing human needs and threats to survival. Humanitarians on the ground see no real progress—certainly none that can withstand the effects of badly timed rains or a poor harvest (last year’s rains and harvest were particularly bountiful; the outlook this year is not nearly so good). The fighting between the regime’s forces, regular and paramilitary, and the rebel groups has diminished again, although a significant flare-up continues to remain a strong possibility. And if there is a unification of rebels in Darfur and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North from South Kordofan, the fighting could quickly become explosive. Meanwhile, Antonov aircraft continue to bomb civilian targets; civilians in camps for the displaced continue to be victims of brutal, ethnically targeted violence, especially in West Darfur. And an epidemic of rape continues to threaten girls and women of non-Arab tribal groups.

A Darfur Peace Process?

The so-called "Doha Peace Agreement" of July 14 has—all too predictably—proved essentially worthless, changing neither the political nor the military realities on the ground in Darfur. The signatures of the Khartoum regime and a militarily insignificant and politically powerless group of rebels cobbled together by the U.S. and Libya have done nothing to change the larger dynamics; but this has given Khartoum the opportunity to say that there will be no more peace negotiations, no further agreements, and no discussion of Darfur-related issues outside Sudan. An Obama administration "conference" designed to bring consequential rebel factions to Washington, DC—and whose participation in any meaningful agreement is essential—has been countenanced by Khartoum only after U.S. officials scrambled to assure the regime that this was not a new diplomatic "initiative," preserving the fiction of a completed Darfur peace agreement (the second if one counts the disastrous Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006, signed in Abuja, Nigeria).

Dismayingly, there is no evidence that the Obama administration has backed away from its decision of last November to "de-couple" Darfur from the major ambitions of U.S. Sudan policy: a "senior administration official" (according to a State Department transcript of a background briefing) declared that:

" … the U.S. was prepared to accelerate the removal of Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list if the Government of Sudan did two things. One is to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and two, to live up to all of the legal conditions required under law for Sudan to be taken off the state sponsors list. By doing this, we would also be de-coupling the state sponsor of terrorism from Darfur and from the Darfur issue." (emphasis added)

The enormous significance of this decision continues to go unappreciated by many, including the editorial board of the New York Times. Most consequentially, the "de-coupling" of Darfur from the issue that matters most to Khartoum signaled that the regime could continue to have its genocidal way in the region: U.S. priorities were fully defined by the self-determination referendum in the South. That this re-directed focus did not include Abyei or South Kordofan in any meaningful way suggests, yet again, the foolishness of trying to respond to crises in Sudan piecemeal, of failing to see that apparently separate conflicts are in fact all part of a larger, immensely destructive center/periphery struggle; in turn, the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime is able to play one crisis against another in responding to any real pressure from the international community.

Partly as a consequence of this excessive focus on the South, the Obama administration has been slow to see the implications of threats that Khartoum has made against both UNAMID and the humanitarian community in Darfur—specifically, the threats of expulsion. In the wake of the UN Security Council’s unanimous passage of Resolution 2003 (July 29, 2011), renewing for another year the mandate of UNAMID, an outraged Khartoum released a barrage of extremely heated official pronouncements, focusing on both the preambular language of Resolution 2003 as well as language anchored to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Foreign Minister Ali Karti responded to the Resolution by declaring that any attempt to "impose new commitments" on UNAMID will "free the Sudanese government from its commitment to accepting the [UN/African Union mission] and its deployment." What so irked the regime?

For one thing, the document "reaffirms that there can be no peace without justice" in Darfur, a weak substitute for language reaffirming the Council’s 2005 referral of atrocity crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, which has indicted NIF/NCP President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity, and current governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun, on 42 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Even so, the language still serves as a clear reminder that justice has not begun to be rendered, and impunity continues to reign in Darfur.

The document "expressed deep concern" over "aerial bombardment by the Government of Sudan"—something established beyond all reasonable doubt, and yet part of what the regime calls "negative and obsolete references." The resolution also spoke of "the deteriorating security situation in some parts of Darfur," of the need to "lift the state of emergency" in Darfur, of the need for political prisoners to be released, and of the "need to bring to justice the perpetrators of [atrocity] crimes" and for the regime "to comply with its obligations in this respect." As far as Khartoum was concerned all of this was evidence that the UN Security Council resolution had "’intentionally infringed’ on Sudan’s sovereignty." Language in the resolution referring to delayed visas for UNAMID staff, the denial of a radio transmitter license for UNAMID, and other logistical problems, and the Council’s "demand" that "UNAMID report on sexual and gender based violence," was much more than Khartoum was willing to accept—and Foreign Minister Ali Karti (of Arab militia background with the Popular Defense Forces) rejected all of it.

The Khartoum embassy in Washington, DC—the most prominent venue for press releases aimed at Western audiences—declared that "the resolution embodies troubling signals that the previous commitments are being unilaterally scrapped by the Council and further contains inaccurate and malicious information that does not in any way reflect the realities on the ground" (emphasis added). The NIF/NCP Political Secretary, al-Hajj Adam Yousif, declared that the "resolution was aimed at providing a cover for supporting Darfur [rebel] movements" (Sudan Vision [Khartoum], August 18, 2011).

No doubt the reference here was to the Security Council’s call for "the Government of Sudan and the armed movements to contribute to the creation of the necessary enabling environment for a Darfur Peace Process that allows the systematic and sustained engagement of all Darfurian stakeholders in constructive and open dialogue." Khartoum was outraged at the implicit claim that such an "enabling environment" does not already exist, for this is critical to their propaganda campaign for the Doha Agreement and “domestication” of the peace process. Khartoum also bridled at the idea that it bears substantial responsibility for creating such an environment.

It would be foolish not to heed the threat—made yet again on August 16 by Foreign Minister Karti in an interview with the pro-regime al-Ray al-Amm—that UNAMID will not be able to remain in Darfur "unless according to the former agreement on its establishment between Sudan, the UN, and the AU." Sensing that the Council may be willing to speak more honestly about Darfur’s realities, Khartoum is determined that there will be no further excessive characterizations or stipulations going forward, and that it does not feel itself bound by any number of Council "demands," "urgings," "condemnations," or "requests."

It is impossible to imagine that a regime so adamant, so belligerent, and so deeply imperiled will make anything resembling a just peace for Darfur. Confronting this intransigence, and unwilling to challenge the regime more broadly, the international community has yet again contented itself with rhetorical exhortation, Khartoum’s outrage notwithstanding.

Humanitarian failures

For its part, the UN humanitarian leadership in Sudan still refuses to provide anything approaching adequate information about the humanitarian situation in Darfur, even as silence on the part of the UN in turn prevents International Nongovernmental Organizations (INGOs) from releasing data, information, and reports they have assembled. UN officials in New York accept the decisions that prevent dissemination of UN and INGO information about malnutrition, health benchmarks, water supplies, and a host of other critical issues. The conclusions reached by researchers on the ground for a Tufts University study (January 2011) remains all too relevant:

"Crucial information about the humanitarian situation is lacking. There are serious issues with the proper validation of the nutrition survey reports and their immediate release—without such data neither the government nor the international community can properly understand the severity of the humanitarian situation or the efficacy of the response."

" … international humanitarian capacities have been seriously eroded and impaired to a point that leaves Darfuris in a more vulnerable position now than at any other time since the counterinsurgency operations and forced displacements in 2003 and early 2004." ("Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur," January 2011; not publicly released)

A January 2011 report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) makes an especially shocking revelation:

"UNICEF reported early last year that as many as 21 nutritional surveys were conducted since June 2009, but only seven have been released by [Khartoum’s] humanitarian affairs commission [HAC]. Six of those showed [Global Acute] malnutrition rates of between 15 and 29 per cent, the report stated."

The emergency threshold for malnutrition is a GAM rate of 15 percent or greater.

Some more recent malnutrition data from Darfur suggest particular areas of concern, but the data is from either May or February, and hence represents conditions before the traditional "hunger gap" had begun to bite deeply. In general, the reports for all three Darfur states represent a stable situation, with some mildly encouraging signs. But this certainly doesn’t tell the whole story; moreover, the data were published in February and May, and looked backward, not forward.

For example, the UN World Food Program noted of North Darfur in February (the latest published report for this region) that, "Some 13 percent of IDP children, 3 percent of children in mixed communities [displaced persons and residents] and 15 percent of children in resident communities are moderately malnourished." These are very worrying percentages. Furthermore, "7 percent of resident children are severely malnourished" (emphasis added) (WFP Food Security Monitoring System (FSMS): North Darfur State, Round 9, February 2011). This is not an inconsequential figure, though it comes at the very end of the WFP report summary. Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) is an extremely serious and threatening condition of food deprivation, and seven percent is an alarmingly high figure; SAM in children requires urgent medical intervention with therapeutic and supplementary feeding. Did this occur? What do we know about this extremely distressed population of vulnerable children? If there are answers, WFP is making them extremely difficult to find (there are May reports from May for West Darfur and South Darfur, but not North Darfur).

A broader account comes from the May 2011 WFP report for West Darfur:

"The overall food security situation has deteriorated for all community groups (IDPs, mixed and resident communities) compared to February 2011 with a shift of households from the food secure to the moderately food insecure category. The deterioration in food security is mainly attributed to weak purchasing power, less income opportunities in the pre-lean season, and decreased food consumption scores." (WFP Food Security Monitoring System (FSMS) — West Darfur State: Round 10, May 2011)

In South Darfur as many as "65 percent [of displaced persons] are moderately food insecure," and "almost half of this population spends more than 65 percent of its income on food" (WFP Food Security Monitoring System (FSMS) — South Darfur State: Round 10, May 2011).

If these conclusions don’t tell the whole story, they are borne out by additional data that have come to me from Darfur via Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Abdallah, former director of the Amel Center for theTreatmentand Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture (Nyala), and a past winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights. His data show alarming rates of neonatal, infant, and maternal mortality, as well as widespread and acute loss of weight among children (email received August 26, 2011). The data are also borne out again and again by dispatches from the ground via Radio Dabanga. Moreover, if large-scale violence has temporarily subsided, widespread and vicious local violence—directed against the displaced populations, as well as resident rural populations—continues unabated.

[I offered a lengthy compendium of such violence a month ago; the most telling reports of the past month by Radio Dabanga are gathered at the end of this analysis, and continue to reveal extremely alarming patterns.]

Forced returns of displaced persons

Given Darfur’s invisibility and intractability, there is good reason to believe that Khartoum may be preparing to renew pressure for a campaign of forcibly returning displaced persons—particularly from the camps in which they have sought refuge back to their former villages and lands. Most of these lands are now occupied or controlled by Arab militia forces and their affiliates, including non-Sudanese Arab militias, who were given claim to these lands by Khartoum as payment for "military service." In this context, UNAMID in its present form cannot possibly protect any significant number of civilians returning to areas where conflict over land ownership and usage is intense and likely to remain so for a long time. And yet such returns remain a key part of the near-term ambitions guiding the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime.

Since 2004 the regime’s focus on returns has been conspicuous. Then-Minister of the Interior Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein began pushing hard for such returns, and in a crude effort at making something so by declaring it so, Hussein (also then the regime’s special representative on Darfur) claimed preposterously on Sudanese regime-controlled radio (July 9, 2004) "that 86 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons had already returned to their villages" (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 12, 2004). Hussein further declared that "it was ‘most important’ to get people to return to their villages."

There has been a steady and effective push-back against premature returns, by both humanitarian organizations and UN agencies operating in Darfur. But this resistance has atrophied significantly under current UN leadership, which seems increasingly unwilling to forestall returns that will clearly be unsafe and involuntary. Notably, last summer Khartoum expelled a number of senior officials from both the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM); both organizations are critical to assure the safety and voluntary nature of returns, and yet the expulsions met with no meaningful resistance from the UN.

Also last summer Ghazi Salah al-Din, the current senior regime official responsible for Darfur, declared that, "the current priorities of the government’s strategy to address the Darfur problem are first security to accelerate the voluntary, safe return of the displaced" (Radio Dabanga, citing Ghazi’s remarks in a meeting in Nyala, August 4, 2010). But Ghazi was merely paying the necessary lip service in using the criteria "voluntary" and "safe"; the operative word here is "accelerate"—and by any means necessary. He was at the time preparing the way for Khartoum’s "New Strategy for Darfur," which presents a brutal plan to end military resistance in the region.

The "New Strategy," first promulgated later in August 2010 and officially adopted in September 2010, is actually quite simple, despite its prevarications, redundancy, and moments of lip service to various UN and international concerns. Its "strategy" is to shift the emphasis radically toward "development," as opposed to "humanitarian assistance." This "strategic shift" is not made on the basis on any needs assessment. Rather, the regime’s calculation is bluntly simple: if there is no further "need" for the massive humanitarian operation in Darfur (once the world’s largest), then International Nongovernmental Organizations (INGOs) as well as a number of UN agencies providing relief should leave. And once they leave, there will be nothing to prevent forced returns, which will in a great many cases amount to death sentences or life in the vast and growing slum areas that have sprung up around the camp areas near el-Fasher and Nyala.

(A fuller discussion of the realities and danger of returns, forced or otherwise, appears belowin conjunction with an analysis of Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on Darfur.)

Threats against UNAMID and humanitarians

The threats that Khartoum continually issues about expelling humanitarian organizations are not to be taken lightly, especially given the precipitous and massive expulsion of 13 distinguished INGOs on March 4, 2009, which reduced overall humanitarian capacity in Darfur by approximately 50 percent. Subsequent expulsions and evacuations by other organizations have further diminished humanitarian capacity in significant ways. And the threats are continuous, serving various purposes, including warning off excessive international pressure on the regime over its campaign of ethnic destruction against the Nuba in South Kordofan:

"North Sudan’s secretary for the political sector threatened Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating in Kordofan and Darfur with penalties or expulsion on Monday [July 11]. Gudbi-Al Mahadi, of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), is reported by the pro-Khartoum Sudanese Media Centre as threatening NGOs with ‘legal penalties’ and ‘halting of activities’ as some were ‘found providing logistical support to insurgents.’ No evidence was provided to support the allegations against the NGOs. But officials from the ruling party said they do not want a repeat in South Kordofan of the large humanitarian presence and the creation of camps for the displaced civilians, as has happened in Darfur." (emphasis added) (Sudan Tribune, July 11, 2011)

Khartoum has needed the threat of expelling humanitarians—or UNAMID, which provides the necessary fig-leaf of security for a humanitarian presence—as a source of leverage in dealing with the international community, on Darfur, South Kordofan, and North-South relations. But the value of this leverage—especially in the wake of Southern secession and fighting in South Kordofan—may be insufficient to counter-balance the regime’s competing ambition to end the Darfur catastrophe on its own supremely callous terms. Much recent history of Darfur suggests that removing INGOs and forcing the return of displaced persons has become a driving force in Khartoum’s Darfur policies—and all the more vigorous because the international community fails to see or acknowledge the growing dangers for civilians in any honest fashion. Indeed, the "New Strategy" has been explicitly and enthusiastically commended by Thabo Mbeki of the African Union High-Level Panel on Darfur, UNAMID chief Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, and former U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration. This foolish and short-sighted endorsement is all the encouragement Khartoum has needed.

I offered a detailed account of the language in the "New Strategy" at the time of its promulgation, highlighting the clear threat of forced returns. Little in this analysis has been changed by events of the intervening months, although Minni Minawi—the sole rebel signatory to the failed 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement—finally abandoned his sham role in the regime in December 2010, precipitating large-scale fighting that continues in diminished form to the present. But this has not altered Khartoum’s strategic sense of how to prevail in Darfur, and forcing the returns of displaced persons remains at the center of its strategy, the more so because there are so few signs of alarm from the international community. The deference by the international community to UN and African Union leadership on Darfur was excessive even before announcement of the "New Strategy"; this deference now has become abandonment at the highest levels of U.S. diplomacy, emblematized in the Obama administration’s decision to "de-couple" Darfur from the critical negotiations over Khartoum’s remaining on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring nations.

The realities of returns for displaced persons

In assessing the UN’s current response to the threat of forced returns, we should look first at the most recent report on Darfur by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (July 8, 2011; S/2011/422), in which there are only two very short, widely separated paragraphs responding to the issue. In §51, Ban refers to the "success" of returns in Darfur by pointing to the approximately 35,000 who have reportedly returned since the beginning of the year, though he acknowledges assessment of "the voluntariness and appropriateness of returns" is incomplete—a deeply disingenuous understatement. Most of the "returns" Ban refers to are from people in the camps of South Darfur to rural areas in West Darfur.

So what do we know about the character of these returns? From UNAMID and UN humanitarian sources, pitifully little (Ban offers nothing in his report). Radio Dabanga, however, has provided a good deal of information on this very issue, and it ought to give us pause in assessing whether the UN is in any position to encourage (or celebrate) returns. In a dispatch of July 26, 2011 ("Voluntary Repatriation: 7 families found in a critical state"), Radio Dabanga reports:

"[Seven] families who came back to the Guido region [West Darfur] in the framework of the Sudanese Government’s voluntary repatriation initiative were found in an extremely worrying state. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that they were part of 25 families who left Kalma Camp (South Darfur) as a part of the Voluntary Return program. However, the journey was too dangerous, and 18 families were forced to travel back to their original camp in South Darfur. Furthermore, they reported to Radio Dabanga that the remaining families did not receive any support from the province of West Darfur, even though it organized the deportation. They now call for international action to save these families, who are currently in a critical state."

"Complaining farmers from Guido Camp (near Garsila, West Darfur) pointed out the deliberate destruction of their farms by shepherds [i.e., nomadic Arab herders]. According to them, the shepherds intentionally set out their cows [i.e., cattle, as opposed to camels] in the farms, setting chaos and destructing their properties. Protesters are immediately beaten up, and women are raped, making them reluctant to return to their fields. Several female farmers reported the incidents to the local authorities, but no action was apparently taken. They now call on UNAMID and the UN to provide them with the necessary protection."

Such calls for protection are a constant on the part of Darfuris, even as they go largely unheard. Moreover, it has long been obvious that humanitarian capacity has already been stretched to the breaking point in Darfur, and fewer and fewer locations are accessible, even as UNAMID controls less and less humanitarian space in Darfur. Returns such as those reported by Radio Dabanga have little chance of receiving relief aid. One highly informed regional source has informed me that there are in all of Darfur no roads cleared for UN travel without an armed escort—not one (telephone interview, August 26, 2011). The same is true for the number of locations outside el-Fasher where UN humanitarian staff can stay without armed protection: there are none—not one. Insecurity is such that there are exceedingly few locations where either INGO or UN humanitarian staff can spend the night in "deep field" locations (those well away from the major urban centers).

And yet according to UN humanitarian chief in Sudan George Charpentier, "’there are large areas where there are security conditions that can promote a return’ of internally displaced persons," suggesting that there were only "pockets of insecurity" (Agence France-Presse [dateline: Khartoum], January 20, 2011). Of course it is also Charpentier who declared that "UN humanitarian agencies are not confronted by pressure or interference from the Government of Sudan"—this in a written statement to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (January 2011, Institute for War and Peace Reporting [IWPR]). Such a claim is despicable mendacity. In a very extensive series of interviews with UN officials (obviously obliged to speak off the record for the most part, but not entirely), IWPR found that:

"According to UN officials who spoke to IWPR, the Sudanese government is actively preventing UN agencies which operate on the ground from accessing information necessary for compiling much needed reports on the humanitarian situation in the region."

And further that,

"UN and diplomatic sources who spoke to IWPR say Khartoum is deliberately undermining humanitarian efforts."

For its part, Reuters reported at roughly the same time: "Workers from four humanitarian organisations, who asked not to be named, told Reuters there had been a recent increase in travel restrictions and worsening security conditions." (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], February 14, 2011)

There are many scores of such confirming reports.

Nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, typically much more knowledgeable about conditions in rural areas, are especially scathing in their criticism of Charpentier—his refusal to listen to field staff and their reports, his excessive closeness to the regime, his mendacity, and his deliberate distortion of the situation in Darfur as a means of mollifying the regime. Many of the same criticisms were made of former U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, whose continual blundering has worked to magnify the impact of Charpentier’s distortions. Part of this is a disgraceful moral cowardice: there can be little doubt that Khartoum has repeatedly threatened Charpentier with humanitarian expulsions, and he has all too readily succumbed to this outrageous blackmail.

So the insecurity continually engineered by Khartoum, and the outright denials of access, go undeclared by the chief UN humanitarian official in region. This in turn means that nearly all humanitarian assessments are conducted on a "hit-and-fly" basis, with no chance for sustained assessment or supervised delivery of food or medical aid. As I have argued previously, and as the Tufts University makes abundantly clear, the UN and INGOs are flying blind in Darfur. We don’t have nearly enough data for issues like malnutrition. Again, the context—if we look to the results of independent research on the ground—should be terrifying:

"Crucial information about the humanitarian situation is lacking. There are serious issues with the proper validation of the nutrition survey reports and their immediate release—without such data neither the government nor the international community can properly understand the severity of the humanitarian situation or the efficacy of the response."

" … international humanitarian capacities have been seriously eroded and impaired to a point that leaves Darfuris in a more vulnerable position now than at any other time since the counterinsurgency operations and forced displacements in 2003 and early 2004." (emphasis added) ("Navigating Without a Compass: The Erosion of Humanitarianism in Darfur")

The Tufts report also notes that the limited data we have reflect "an extremely poor nutritional situation with implications for functional outcomes of mortality and morbidity risk," which puts in question UN accounts. People are becoming ill and dying because they don’t have enough food to eat. The report notes as well "several causes for concern with regard to the reporting of humanitarian indicators," especially in the context of "frequent claims [that] the situation is stable":

"The regular occurrence of emergency levels of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) on a seasonal basis, which are ignored by the international community. If the emergency benchmark of 15% is felt not to apply to Darfur, this needs to be properly explained and justified based on evidence."

"The poor reporting by UNICEF on the available malnutrition estimates, which buries GAM estimates by scattering them about within the report, thus making it harder for readers to evaluate."

The Tufts study gives a grim account of UN acquiescence before Khartoum’s obstructionism, and highlights the "reported blocking of the release of nutrition survey reports …. What little data was available is subject to spin and obfuscation. A closer look at the data reflects an alarming situation about which there is no clear commentary or analysis by the UN technical agencies concerned …. The problems with the nutrition data illustrate wider problems of the potential for manipulation of data."

The most troubling issue raised by all this is the fate of those are forced to return: if conditions are as the Tufts report describes them, if there is such a poverty of critical information for a range of humanitarian indicators, how will we monitor those who are forced to return? Who will protect these people from further predations by the Janjaweed, other Arab militia groups, and those that have been recycled into various paramilitary guises within the ranks of Khartoum’s military and security/police forces? And how will we know that the returns are being effectively monitored, given Khartoum’s hostile attitude toward UNHCR and IOM?

How many people are poised to be "returned"?

But let’s return to Ban Ki-moon’s report on returns in Darfur, and his second short paragraph on the subject (§78), which addresses the issue in a single sentence:

"I am encouraged by the reports of voluntary returns of internally displaced persons to their towns and villages of origin. I commend UNAMID and the humanitarian community for their focus on providing protection and assistance to these returnees …. "

And that is all. Ban is speaking about a total of 35,000 claimed returns—during a period in which 70,000 people were newly displaced. His knowledge and that of UNAMID about the fate of these returnees is clearly incomplete, given the experience of the families in the Guido region of West Darfur. And indeed, it is extremely doubtful that 35,000 is an accurate census of true returnees—displaced persons returning to their villages and lands of origin—or that this population, whatever its size, has anything like appropriate security. One extremely well-informed source in the region simply scoffs at the figure of 35,000—pointing out the inordinate efforts the UN was obliged to make in a pilot resettling program for a few hundred people in North Darfur earlier in the year. Trumpeted by UNAMID and the UN as a telling success story, the episode in fact revealed just how difficult and time-consuming and expensive protected resettlement will be.

And what of the fate of those who do return once UNAMID leaves, as the force will surely do? Even now there is not nearly enough effective manpower to protect all areas where returns would have to occur. This question is made more urgent because UNAMID has consistently failed to protect even villages that have been previously untouched; we should still be haunted by the massacre at Tabarat last September, when more than fifty Fur men and boys were executed at point blank range by Arab militiamen (horrific accounts were offered by survivors to Reuters newswire). UNAMID, with a base in Tawila, just 25 kilometers away, refused to protect the people under attack, refused their pleas to help remove the bodies of the dead, and acquiesced before Khartoum’s insistence that all UNAMID personnel stay away from the site of the massacre for over a week.

There is of course is good reason for UNAMID, so poorly led by Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, to be fearful. For example, Reuters reported (January 25, 2011) that the UN had confirmed that "Sudanese soldiers fired warning shots when they saw a UNAMID patrol on Saturday [January 22, 2011] near the north Darfur settlement of Dar el-Salam and stopped it from entering the area, a UN source said" (dateline: Khartoum). This is but one of a great many examples of regime hostility toward UNAMID taking violent form.

Local sources suggest that there was an underlying dispute between those attacked and those attacking at Tabarat, but there can scarcely be any doubt that in the larger context of Darfur, this was a major atrocity crime that required forceful investigation and reporting. Chande Osman, the UN Expert for Human Rights in Sudan, called on the Khartoum regime to conduct "as a matter of urgency a thorough and transparent investigation into the attack on civilians in [Tabarat] North Darfur. This incident should be investigated thoroughly and impartially and those responsible should be brought to justice." But of course UNAMID has issued no report on its ignominious failure in Tabarat—nor has UN Secretariat or the UN High Commission for Human Rights. The consequences of this disgraceful failure by UNAMID were reported by Radio Dabanga yesterday ("Armed group plunders camp in North Darfur; Perpetrators kill a 55-year-old refugee in the incident," August 29, 2011):

"An armed group plundered the Rwanda refugee camp in North Darfur on Sunday, killing a refugee in the incident. The group riding more than ten Land Cruisers broke into the camp on Sunday evening and killed 55-year-old Isaac Sahleh Babur, according to witnesses in the camp. A witness told Radio Dabanga, ‘The armed group killed Isaac Sahleh Babur and plundered and looted more than 100 displaced people. They looted money, gold, mobile phones, food, clothing, furniture, utensils etc.’ The witness, who does not wish to be named fearing retribution from Sudanese authorities, added that the armed group came from Kutum and was led by a man named Musa Leylie. He pointed out that Musa is the same person who had attacked the Tebra [Tabarat] area last year, resulting in the death of more than 69 people." (emphasis added)

Militiamen surround camp

Furthermore, witnesses reported that armed militiamen on horsebacks and camels surrounded the refugee camp on Monday. ‘The armed men have been guarding the camp since last evening despite the arrival of the army from Turney to calm and reassure camp residents,’ a refugee in the camp told Radio Dabanga. The refugees appealed to the sheikh of the camp, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to intervene in the situation and protect them."

Given such realities, how can we possibly credit Ban’s implicit assertion about the protection of returnees? It is all too clear from the extreme brevity and mere hopefulness of Ban’s report on returns that the UN has not thought seriously about this critical problem. Instead, it appears that the UN has decided simply to reduce the figure for the number of displaced persons in the camps. Thus in place of the figure of 2.7 million promulgated by the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its last "Darfur Humanitarian Profile" (Number 34, reflecting conditions as of January 1, 2009, and in line with the figures from preceding reports), the figure for the total IDP population figure now promulgated is 1.8 million.

How can this change possibly reflect realities on the ground? Or are we to surmise that over the course of thirty-four iterations of OCHA’s data-rich Darfur Humanitarian Profiles the conclusions concerning numbers of IDPs (which rise very steadily over several years) were so spectacularly in error, overstating the population by 50 percent? — by almost a million people?

Even more troubling, data from OCHA on large-scale human displacement over the past four and a half years present stronger challenges to the figure first promulgated last July under the leadership of Charpentier (who is himself part of OCHA as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan). The last Darfur Humanitarian Profile from OCHA estimated that 317,000 people had been newly displaced in 2008, and it is far from clear that the figure of 2.7 million captured all these newly displaced. To be sure, many of these people were being displaced for a second, third, even fourth time. But given OCHA’s estimate of the newly displaced for 2007 (300,000 civilians), it is difficult to see the figure of 2.7 million going anywhere but up.

And yet the official figure, cited now by most newswire reports, is 1.8 million displaced persons—again, a reduction of almost 1 million human beings. Whatever the problems with World Food Program census efforts in the vast number of geographically dispersed camps (where people continued to die but also to be born), whatever duplication in registrations within the camps, and however confusing the movements of such a vast population, a reduction of this crucial barometer of well-being and a key indicator of violence cannot be made without full explanation—something nowhere provided by the UN. A figure for displaced persons in Darfur requires serious, statistically compelling analysis. Charpentier has provided none of this, and indeed in the first OCHA document that cites the new figure (at the time 1.9 million), the only reference to a source is for a document that does not exist—a study in progress by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), but far from finished, and indeed, highly unlikely to be susceptible of completion, given conditions on the ground.

Determining a total number of IDPs, disaggregating the numbers of those in camps and those in mixed communities (resident and displaced), ascertaining the number of newly displaced who are actually being displaced for the first time—all of these are enormously difficult statistical challenges in the intensely hostile environment of Darfur, and given the denial of access by Khartoum. But before reducing by almost one million human beings the official figure for the number of displaced in Darfur, a great deal more needs to be done to explain this vast demographic reclassification. None of this has been provided by the UN or anyone else.

At the same time, the political value of reducing the number of IDPs is all too conspicuous—both to the UN and UNAMID—and it is difficult to believe that this has not been central to the thinking of the expedient Charpentier, who is widely despised by humanitarians, especially those outside the UN system. And UNAMID under the feckless Gambari is desperate for anything that might paper over its massive failure, even if only by statistical contrivance. Even so, an overview of the data and figures that the UN has released or promulgated would look like this (supplemented with two other NGO sources):

• Current official UN and UNAMID estimate of number of IDPs: 1.8 million (source: UNAMID/OCHA)

• UN OCHA estimate for IDPs as of January 1, 2009: "nearly 2.7 million" (source: OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2007: over 300,000 (source: OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2008: 317,000 (source: OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2009: 250,000 (primary source: Canadian "Peace Operations Monitor")

• Newly displaced civilians in 2010: 300,000 (primary sources: International Displacement Monitoring Center and OCHA)

• Newly displaced civilians in 2011 through July 1: 60,000 – 70,000 (source: UN Secretariat)

The total for newly displaced persons, from January 1, 2007 to the present (from above): 1.2 million

The total for IDPs as of January 1, 2007: 2.05 million (Source: OCHA)

•This is the context for the current UN/UNAMID figure for IDPs: 1.8 million (source: UNAMID)

• Finally, the figure for displaced persons in Jebel Marra was released August 16, 2011: 400,000 (UNAMID). It is unclear whether this figure is taken into account in any way by the UN figure of 1.8 million displaced persons. The UN has offered no clarification or update to its figure.

Something is terribly wrong with this statistical picture, and until the UN becomes more transparent with its data and calculations, the figure of "1.8 million internally displaced in Darfur" seems a highly tendentious guess. Donor nations should demand an objective collection and review of all data, not just the data which support an immense reduction in the number of displaced. There must be integrity in the effort, of a sort Charpentier has to date nowhere exhibited. Journalists must be able to ask about the thinking and data that lie behind OCHA’s massive reduction in a critical figure, a reduction that has immense policy implications for the issue of returns.

Future returns?

What is the view of returns from people who know Darfur well? Darfur researcher Laura Jones put the matter well in an interview with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (December 13, 2010), referring to the widely held views of Darfuris:

"Although the UN is currently cooperating with Khartoum to help some 1,600 people leave Kalma to return to their homes in West Darfur, humanitarian agencies are acutely aware of the dangers of any kind of forced return, warning that many IDPs simply have nowhere secure to go. ‘You have to be really careful with returns in Darfur,’ Jones said. ‘The government of Sudan and the armed Arab tribes which subsequently became janjaweed nomads who wanted to take the land are now occupying the fertile land. Talking about return is well and good in theory but where and to what land? The government understands the lexicon of human rights and has included the language in their new strategy. But these actions will have serious consequences if the government is trying to orchestrate forced movement on a massive scale."

The same very substantial and comprehensively researched IWPR dispatch reports that "scores of Darfuri IDPs" have made it clear that "they want to return home only when their safety and security can be guaranteed":

"The government, they say, has so far made no effort to ensure their safe return to their villages, or ensure their safety once they have gone back. Little effort has been made to rebuild destroyed villages, or to provide clean water supplies or education or medical services, they say. As such, [Salih] Osman, the lawyer and opposition politician, said the UN’s cooperation with the government amounted to collusion and was part of the international failure of the people in Darfur. The Sudanese government, meanwhile, sees the cooperation of the UN as an endorsement of its strategy for Darfur namely the return of IDPs to their villages."

Yet another part of the dynamic in forcing returns has been reported to me by an exceptionally well-informed and well-connected member of the Darfuri diaspora; and the range of information and data that he has collated suggest that Khartoum has begun exacerbating the food crisis in the region as a means of indirectly compelling returns of displaced persons and closing down the camps—the latter, again, an ambition of the regime since 2004, when the scale of Darfur’s catastrophe first came to be appreciated by the international community:

"The dangerous trend taking place now across the IDP camps in Darfur is the Government of Sudan is using aid (food and medicine) to dismantle some camps, and to silence outspoken Darfuris in other camps. In Kalma camp, IDPs complain that the food ration is drastically reduced and pro- [Khartoum] government NGOs keep telling the IDPs that if they listen to the government officials and relocate, they can get full rations and medical care. These government NGOs have been given contracts and access to the IDP camps following a deal between [U.S. special envoy] Gration and the Government of Sudan after the government expelled the 13 INGOs in March 2009." (email received January 17, 2011; lightly edited for clarity)

Radio Dabanga has recently reported in the same vein about camps near Zalingei, West Darfur;

"Several camps in Zalingei have reported deterioration in health standards due to the lack of humanitarian aid organizations in the area. Incidences of malnutrition among children, viral diseases connected to the rain season, diarrhea and malaria have risen in Hassa Hissa, Taiba El Hamdiya and Dqaig Gamsa camps. Because of government policy aimed at sanitizing the camps, many camps are supposedly abandoned, a coordinator of Zalingei camps told Radio Dabanga." (emphasis added) ("Poor health in ‘abandoned’ Zalingei camps," [Zalingei] August, 4, 2011)

This in the context in which to understand the implications of findings by IWPR this past January:

"UNICEF reported early last year that as many as 21 nutritional surveys were conducted since June 2009, but only seven have been released by [Khartoum’s] humanitarian affairs commission [HAC]. Six of those showed [Global Acute] malnutrition rates of between 15 and 29 per cent, the report stated."

The threshold for a humanitarian emergency is Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) at a rate of 15 percent or higher; thus locations with a GAM rate of 29 percent are experiencing double the malnutrition threshold rate for a humanitarian emergency. And yet Khartoum has decided to suppress two-thirds these critical reports, even as those released suggest an extremely serious and widespread malnutrition problem.

The deliberate and consequential nature of this suppression has been made explicit by the courageously outspoken Nils Kastberg, head of UNICEF in Darfur:

"Nils Kastberg [said in October 2010] that Khartoum is preventing his agency from releasing reports about malnutrition in IDP camps. ‘Part of the problem has been when we conduct surveys to help us address issues, in collaboration with the ministry of health, very often other parts of the government such as the humanitarian affairs commission [HAC] interferes and delays in the release of reports, making it difficult for us to respond [in a] timely [manner],’ he said."

Charpentier and others may choose to dissimulate in the face of such blunt honesty, but this is not a choice for the people on the ground in Darfur. Malnutrition and the manipulation/suppression of both data and food supplies continue to be weapons of war. The threats to the people of Darfur—to their health, their families, their security, their livelihoods, and their dignity—are constant, and no amount of UN or UNAMID mendacity can change this. And they continue to be reported, with resilience and integrity, by Radio Dabanga.

Charpentier and others may choose to dissimulate in the face of such blunt honesty, but this is not a choice for the people on the ground in Darfur. Malnutrition and the manipulation/suppression of both data and food supplies continue to be weapons of war. The threats to the people of Darfur—to their health, their families, their security, their livelihoods, and their dignity—are constant, and no amount of UN or UNAMID mendacity can change this. And they continue to be reported, with resilience and integrity, by Radio Dabanga.



Since my compendium of a month ago (July 27, 2011), the reports from Radio Dabanga, a truly extraordinary news consortium, have been continuous—many of them bearing directly on issues discussed here, including extreme violence directed against the camps and displaced persons, deteriorating humanitarian conditions in many camps, and the loss of land to Arab militia groups. The accounts published over the past month are shockingly extensive. But perhaps the most disturbing of these dispatches takes note of findings published this month in the British medical journal The Lancet:

"Investigators of studies with medium to large sample sizes have concluded that forcibly displaced children in low-income and middle-income settings have high rates of psychiatric disorders. Thus 75% of 331 displaced children in camps for internally displaced people in southern Darfur met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression."

These staggering figures suggest an extremely grim future for the next generation of Darfuris, as do a range of current developments and crises:

Armed group plunders camp in North Darfur; Perpetrators kill a 55-year-old refugee in the incident (August 29) An armed group plundered the Rwanda refugee camp in North Darfur on Sunday, killing a refugee in the incident. The group riding more than ten Land Cruisers broke into the camp on Sunday evening and killed 55-year-old Isaac Sahleh Babur, according to witnesses in the camp. A witness told Radio Dabanga, "The armed group killed Isaac Sahleh Babur and plundered and looted more than 100 displaced people. They looted money, gold, mobile phones, food, clothing, furniture, utensils etc." The witness, who does not wish to be named fearing retribution from Sudanese authorities, added that the armed group came from Kutum and was led by a man named Musa Leylie. He pointed out that Musa is the same person who had attacked the Tebra [Tabarat] area last year, resulting in the death of more than 69 people. (emphasis added)

Militia men surround camp

Furthermore, witnesses reported that armed militia men on horsebacks and camels surrounded the refugee camp on Monday. "The armed men have been guarding the camp since last evening despite the arrival of the army from Turney to calm and reassure camp residents," a refugee in the camp told Radio Dabanga. The refugees appealed to the sheikh of the camp, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to intervene in the situation and protect them.

• Herders damaging crops in South Darfur

GEREIDA (19 August) Farmers in northwest of Gereida in South Darfur complained on Friday of shepherds [nomadic camel and cattle-herders, typically Arab] leading their livestock onto their farms and thereby damaging their bean and corn crops. One of the farmers told Radio Dabanga that entire villages in north and west Gereida were occupied by shepherds, who forced the farmers to abandon their crops. He added that farmers in other surrounding areas were facing the same fate.

There are allegedly about 200 to 300 shepherds set up in and around the area whose activities have led to farmers leaving in despair. "We would like to appeal to the local authorities or order the pastoralists to leave the region. The nomadic people must go away from our farms here," the farmer told Radio Dabanga.

Farmers attacked in West Darfur

El Geneina (2 August) Farmers in West Darfur have been suffering several attacks by armed herders[nomadic Arab cattle- and camel-herders] since Monday. Sources in East Geneina told Radio Dabanga that they were attacked by an armed group while working on their land on Monday. Two girls were raped, and four of the men received beatings after they had been tied. A displaced person of Kendeby Camp said that an armed group of 18 people beat, and attempted to rape several women and girls, who were working the land. Three of these women suffered hand and leg fractures. Approximately twelve girls fled into the valleys and villages surrounding the camp. Another displaced person from Mornie camp told Radio Dabanga than an armed group had beaten three farm workers, namely Abdul Ghaffar Mohammed, Karim Isaac and Adam Mohamed Saleh, during their work outside the camp. One of them had serious injuries and had to be transferred a hospital in Geneina for treatment. (emphasis added)

• Abu Tira members loot Zamzam camp

EL FAHSER (24 August) Raid into the southern district and steal from civilians A group of Central Reserve Force men, also known as Abu Tira, looted residents in the southern district of Zamzam camp after breaking in on Wednesday.

They stole 22 mobile phones from Abdo Sharif’s shop, 800 pounds (300USD) from a merchant Abdullah Canoon, and five sheep from a civilian named Abkar Abdullah. Witnesses furthermore told Radio Dabanga that a number of other shops had been destroyed and looted by the gunmen before they opened fire in the Bgadroa district, where the majority of the neighborhood’s Arab citizens live.

According to witnesses, UNAMID forces were stationed 500 metres from the site of the incident but did not react on the inhabitants’ distress. The camp residents in turn appeal to UNAMID to fulfill its role as an organ of protection of civilians and their property.

The camp had already suffered a previous attack at the hands of the Abu Tira on Tuesday, when a group of 30 of their gunmen stormed the camp’s south district.

The attack happened right after the Ramadan breakfast, after which they broke down and looted the southern part of Zamzam’s market. They plundered five shops, burned down a number of other shops run in thatched huts and cafés before fleeing, witnesses told Radio Dabanga.

• Army excesses reported in West Darfur

MORNEI, CARA (25 August) A group of four uniformed loot 100 sheep from Mornei Four (4) armed men on horsebacks, wearing military uniforms looted 100 sheep from Mornei in West Darfur on Wednesday, a witness told Radio Dabanga. The witness, who did not wish to be named fearing retribution from Sudanese authorities on the ground, told Radio Dabanga, "The gunmen found a herd of sheep with a shepherd in Mornei. The gunmen opened fire in the air and the shepherd left the area. He lost control over the sheep after which the men belonging to the armed forces took the sheep to unknown location." The witness added that a report about the incident had been filed with the Mornei police. However, no action has yet been taken in this regard. A sheep in Sudan costs approximately 200-300 pounds. Meanwhile, an armed group looted two trucks in Cara area of South Darfur, one of the victims told Radio Dabanga. "Seven military uniform gunmen on the backs of four (4) camels and three (3) horses stopped the trucks coming from the region of Kara and looted around 700 pounds worth personal baggage and then beat them severely. They especially beat the passengers who did not have money," the witness said. (emphasis added)

75% of Darfur’s refugee children show PTSD symptoms

Oxford (12 August) Study conducted by a UK journal says 38 per cent meet clinical criteria for depression 75 per cent of the children in Darfur’s refugee camps met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to an interview-based study released by The Lancet, a UK-based health journal, on Thursday. The study also concluded that 38 per cent of refugee children in camps fulfilled clinical symptoms for depression. The research carried out by the Oxford-based group is meant to add to information about mental health issues faced by refugee children.

• Assaults continue in North Darfur camps

El-Fasher (11 August) Residents panic as government helicopter swoops down on Zam Zam; racial assaults reported in Kassab A number of refugees in North Darfur’s Zam Zam camp have been injured as a result of a government operation on Wednesday. Refugees from the camp were put in a state of panic when three (3) government helicopters swooped down and flew at a low altitude over the camp. The incident happened at around eight in the morning. Inhabitants of the camp said that central reserve forces (also referred to as Abu Tirat) opened fire indiscriminately on the same day adding to panic and fear among residents. A refugee, who does not wish to be named fearing retribution from Sudanese authorities, demanded that the international community intervene to protect the Sudanese refugees, while expressing his distrust of the government forces.

Racist assaults in Kassab camp

Displaced persons living in Kassab camp, North Darfur complained on Thursday of routine racial abuse at the hands of pro-government militias. The refugees said that pro-government militias riding cars and land cruisers launch slogans and racial insults at the camp population. Some incursions into the camps by unidentified persons also result in heavy firing. A dweller of the camp, who wants to protect his identity, told Radio Dabanga, "A group of four (4) militia men entered the camp with four land cruisers on Thursday afternoon. They were armed with heavy weapons and caused a state of terror." The residents have reported the incident to the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and demanded protection.

Central reserve forces abuse power in Saraf Omra

Saraf Omra (9 August) Residents say excessive use of force is routine behaviour The Saraf Omra camp (North Darfur) has been routinely suffering from excessive use of force at the hands of central reserve forces (also referred to as riot police or "Abu Tira") stationed in the region, camp residents said on Tuesday. One camp resident, who does not wish to be named, told Radio Dabanga that the central reserve personnel regularly refuse to pay the merchants for the goods they purchase. He also informed that the government forces use public transport without buying tickets. "On being asked for money by the shop keeper or the transport employees, they retort with force. This month alone there have been 12 people assaulted with serious injuries," the unnamed source said. The government forces have also been accused of whipping women and opening fire at refugee camps. The IDPs residing in the Saraf Umra camp have called for the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the government authorities to step in to counter the use of force by the central reserve personnel. (emphasis added)

Zam Zam Camp terrorized by Central Reserve Police

El Fasher (1 August) Saturday night, soldiers from the Central Reserve Police "Abu Tira" discharged their weapons again and again in the air, in Zam Zam Camp for displaced people, near El Fasher, North Darfur. This caused great fear among the displaced people, and they complained about it to UNAMID. An activist from Zam Zam Camp told Radio Dabanga, that during a routine meeting with UNAMID about security in the camp. Displaced persons asked UNAMID to press the commander of the Central Reserve Police, to stop these police brutalities, and crack down on offending officers.

• Sheikh shot dead in Hamidiya

ZALINGEI (21 August) Coordinator of Zalingei camps accuses government forces of carrying out the killing A sheikh in Hamidiya refugee camp in Zalingei, West Darfur was allegedly shot dead on Saturday by gunmen loyal to the Sudanese government. Witnesses said that the perpetrators shot Sheikh Abbas Juma Barak twice in the chest by a creek between Zalingei town and Hamidiya refugee camp. The incident took place when Sheikh Abbas was on his way home in the camp after his evening prayers in Zalingei. The coordinator of the Zalingei camps told Radio Dabanga that camp leaders had informed the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) of the incident. "The government coordinated the killing of Sheikh Abbas. He is a member of the committee of food distribution of the camp," the camp coordinator told Radio Dabanga.

• Civilian shot dead in Saraf Omra

SARAF OMRA (24 August) Killed by militia since he refused to pay to cross the city gates A civilian was shot dead by a member of the local militia in Saraf Omra, North Darfur on Tuesday. A relative of the deceased, Abdul Aziz Abkar Abdullah, told Radio Dabanga that the incident had happened when Abdul Aziz was headed back to his village after shopping in the city with other villagers.

As they wanted to cross the city’s checkpoint, located on the outskirts, the militia guarding it asked the group to pay two pounds per person to be granted access out of Saraf Omra. Abdul Aziz refused and was shot twice; one bullet hit his head, the other one his chest, which led to his immediate death.

• Nine gunmen loot cars in South Darfur

JEBEL MARRA (15 August) Four women have also been raped in the incident

Nine (9) gunmen riding horses are reported to have looted three (3) cars carrying goods and passengers on its way from Marchin to east of Jebel Marra in South Darfur on Monday. One of the passengers in the car told Radio Dabanga, "The gunmen raped four (4) women at gunpoint in front of Nazerem in daylight in Ramadan." The passengers in the car were also asked to empty the goods and subjected to beating by the armed men. The incident has been reported to the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). (emphasis added)

CHAD: The fate of Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad has disappeared entirely from the news, though here again Radio Dabanga provides a glimpse of what these people are experiencing:

• Food shortage in eastern Chad camp

EASTERN CHAD (22 August) 537 new refugees in the Gaga shelter haven’t received rations since June 537 Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad’s Gaga camp have not received their food rations since last June, a sheikh in the camp told Radio Dabanga on Monday. Sheikh Mohammed Ismail said, "The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has asked the veteran refugees in the camp to share their food rations with the new arrivals until August, which should have been the next date for replenishing the food stocks." However, the refugees were surprised when the UNHCR asked them to prolong that initiative until October. The decision was therefore vehemently rejected by the refugees. Sheikh Mohammed Ismail added, "The new arrivals were registered as refugees and must receive food on showing their food ration cards." (emphasis added)

Serious water shortage in eastern Chad camp

Brejean [also Bredjing] (9 August) Refugees facing threat of diseases as they use contaminated water from nearby valleys Nearly 45,000 Sudanese [Darfuri] refugees from the Brejean camp (eastern Chad) are suffering from acute water shortage after the water pump’s generator broke down, residents complained on Tuesday. This has resulted in refugees traveling to nearby valleys in search of water for drinking and domestic purposes. The water from the valleys is, however, not suitable for consumption. Refugees in the camp told Radio Dabanga that the water was contaminated by both human and animal waste and carcasses leading to the spread of waterborne diseases, especially among children. The camp residents have appealed to the UNHCR, Red Cross of Chad and Eve Bakhit Adam, coordinator of the women’s camp who oversees the water supply in the camp, to take immediate action.

JEBEL MARRA: This region, largely under rebel control, has endured a virtually total humanitarian embargo for the past two years. The strategy of denying food and relief aid replicates the genocidal campaign against the people of the Nuba Mountains in the 1990s, and which has now resumed. While most welcome, this UNAMID assessment should have been conducted long ago; that it did not is entirely a function of Khartoums denial of access:

• 400,000 displaced in West Jebel Marra

JEBEL MARRA (16 August) Region in need of urgent humanitarian aid

Nearly 400,000 people have been displaced in West Jebel Marra areas, the Humanitarian Protection Strategy of the United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said on Tuesday. "The assessments so far conducted confirm that approximately 400,000 people are displaced in Jebel Marra area," said Oriano Micaletti, head of the UNAMID Humanitarian Protection Strategy. "They have received very limited assistance during the last few years and are in urgent need of humanitarian aid" (emphasis added). There is an urgent need for humanitarian aid according to the Humanitarian Protection Strategy of the Mission.

The West Jebel Marra area has been in conflict since the past couple of years during which limited help was available to the affected people. The precarious security situation in the region led to the withdrawal of most international aid organizations in 2009. Earlier this month, the UNAMID led a seven-day humanitarian mission comprised of OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR and WHO as well as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) to West Jebel Marra. The mission, from 7-14 August, both assessed the needs of the communities and delivered some humanitarian assistance to needy people in Golo, Killin, Sarong, Golol, Thur and Nertiti. However, the team could not access the communities of Kutrum and Kiwilla, as planned, due to security restrictions. This month’s multi-agency UN mission was the first to establish contact with the conflict-affected region in many months.

• Camps in North Darfur suffer from water scarcity

North Darfur (14 August) Refugees face shortage of drinking water because of faulty pumps The citizens of the Dali and Agro camps of North Darfur complained on Sunday of water scarcity. The drinking water shortage is a result of dysfunctional water pumps. The water now available in the camp is contaminated because of surface runoff. A displaced person in the camp told Radio Dabanga, "The water from the wells has long led to a divide between the two camps located in the north of the valley." He added that, the price of a barrel of water increased from five (5) pounds to seven (7) pounds and called on the displaced, local authorities and humanitarian organizations to speed up the repair of the faulty water pumps to solve the water shortage.

‘WFP violating international law’

EL FASHER (18 August) Coordinator for North Darfur refugee camps says food rations have reduced The World Food Program (WFP) is violating international law with regard to food rations to be allocated to refugees, the coordinator of the camps in North Darfur accused on Thursday. Ahmed Atim, the camp coordinator told Radio Dabanga that the WFP had reduced rations for the displaced in contradiction to international standards. He added that these rations had reduced gradually over time. "The WFP is always pointing out that they are serving to a lot of camps in the state. But we don’t receive rations for several months put together," he complained. He said the camps of North Darfur suffer from poor nutrition, health services and treatment. "I would like to appeal to the international community to do its part for citizens of Darfur," he told Radio Dabanga. Earlier this year, Radio Dabanga had also reported on WFP’s failure to deliver rations in El Geneina in West Darfur.

Poor health in ‘abandoned’ Zalingei camps

Zalingei (4 August) Humanitarian organizations’ absence leads to deterioration of living standards Several camps in Zalingei have reported deterioration in health standards due to the lack of humanitarian aid organizations in the area. Incidences of malnutrition among children, viral diseases connected to the rain season, diarrhea and malaria have risen in Hassa Hissa, Taiba El Hamdiya and Dqaig Gamsa camps. Because of government policy aimed at sanitizing the camps, many camps are supposedly abandoned, a coordinator of Zalingei camps told Radio Dabanga. The coordinator also informed, that students were forced to leave schools as the government had done nothing for school maintenance. He added that the state government even denied permission to organizations to help with school maintenance. According to humanitarian organizations, the government insisted that these camps were abandoned because of the war. The government asserts that it will provide school maintenance in the home areas of displaced people. The coordinator of Zalingei Camps told Radio Dabanga that he appealed to humanitarian organizations for assistance to alleviate the current situation.

121 affected by jaundice in Zamzam camp

EL FASHER (15 August) The water-borne disease is spreading rapidly across the camp 121 refugees residing in El Fasher’s Zamzam camp have been affected by jaundice, activists working in the camp told Radio Dabanga on Monday. The rapidly spreading disease is suspected to be a type of jaundice. Officials from the Ministry of Health and aid organizations took samples from seven (7) patients in the camp for diagnosis. However, the results haven’t been conclusive, while the disease continues to spread. An activist in the camp, who does not wish to be named fearing retribution from Sudanese forces on the ground, said, "Doctors have said that the disease is being caused by lack of clean drinking water, malnutrition and proliferation of flies in the camp." Radio Dabanga reported earlier this month about the brutalities in the camp committed by the central reserve police, or "Abu Tira" as they are otherwise known.

• Poor food situation marks start Ramadan in Darfur

El Fasher (31 July) High prices and extreme poverty in Darfur and the rest of the Sudan cast a shadow over the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. An activist and camp leader of Zamzam major camps in North Darfur said, that the displaced had not received any help and food aid for two months. It was confirmed to Radio Dabanga, that they had been waiting for the arrival of food rations until the end of July, but that still nothing had arrived. On Monday, the first day of Ramadan, it is uncertain how things will turn out, as displaced people will have great need for food. The activist told Radio Dabanga how food prices had risen recently.

Another source said, that for all displaced persons in camps in Darfur, preparations for the holy month of Ramadan this year, were quite different from all previous years. In an interview with Radio Dabanga, this source identified three big differences. First, a massive rise in the prices of goods and food, especially sugar, cooking oil, flour, and meat. Second, the majority of families have been hungry for some time, as they do not have enough money to buy food. Third, there is a large gap between food rations, that humanitarian organizations provide, and the disappearance of some of the goods. He noted, that a large number of displaced people cannot have breakfast in the streets, anymore, at which point one of the displaced burst into tears.

Eric Reeves is professor of English language and literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He has spent the past 12 years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the US and internationally. He has testified several times before the Congress and is author of “A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.”

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