One year after the world's largest peacekeeping force began deploying to Darfur, many of the communities in which Oxfam works in that war-torn western region of Sudan feel no safer. The conflict there is nearly six years old. Yet, despite countless promises from world leaders and the international community, people still live in fear and still do not have adequate protection.
Known as UNAMID, and approved by the UN Security Council 18 months ago, the force today stands at less than 60 percent of its 26,000 members. It remains woefully short of basic equipment and specialized training. Only three of its expected 19 armed police units have been deployed, and the force is still waiting for the 24 rapid response helicopters it needs to monitor the vast Darfur region. The promise the UN Security Council made to the people of Darfur has not been kept. That UNAMID, one year after its deployment, is still so short of troops and equipment, is an indictment of the international community's response to the crisis in Darfur.
Many communities report feeling most afraid and at risk during the night when armed men routinely harass and intimidate civilians. Yet in most locations, UNAMID personnel are only present during the daytime. Efforts to establish a permanent presence, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, in locations such as Kalma camp in South Darfur are welcome, but they urgently need to be replicated elsewhere.
While UNAMID is seriously under-strength, it has shown that it can still have some impact with the resources it has—if it prioritizes effective protection activities. For example, women regularly face attacks and harassment when they go out to collect firewood or go to market. When UNAMID has carried out patrols to accompany them, women have reported feeling considerably safer and much less vulnerable to attack in some areas. However, these protection patrols are still not happening nearly often enough, and in many locations not at all, even in areas where UNAMID has deployed substantial troop numbers. UNAMID must prioritize such patrols, as well as patrols along main roads to secure the delivery of vital humanitarian aid to people in need.
A full strength UNAMID can make a real improvement in people's lives—if world leaders have the political will to make it succeed. The international community must ensure that UNAMID is fully deployed and supported as soon as possible.
There is still time to make UNAMID a success, but that time is running out. UNAMID itself has come under attack and 12 peacekeepers have been killed. Every day that passes with UNAMID unable to deliver the protection that civilians expect is another day that UNAMID risks further losing the support of the very people it is supposed to assist.
The international community is repeating the same mistakes it made with UNAMID's predecessor, the African Union Mission in Sudan, or AMIS. Initially, AMIS made a positive impact when it was deployed. But it was never given the troops, equipment, or support that it needed. AMIS was left demoralized, rejected by most Darfur residents, and unable to protect itself from violent attacks. UNAMID must not be allowed to suffer the same fate.
But UNAMID alone is not the solution to the Darfur conflict, no matter how large the force is. Peacekeepers cannot succeed without some sort of peace to keep, and UNAMID cannot be a substitute for sustainable peace. All parties must be pressured to immediately cease hostilities and return to the peace process.