Five Years of Fighting Have Left Untold Numbers of People Dead in Darfur
In early 2003, two rebel groups—the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)—both from Sudan's western region of Darfur, launched major offensives on government bases there. The rebels claimed that Darfur had suffered decades of political marginalization and economic neglect from the Sudanese government in Khartoum. Government forces responded and the fighting escalated. Arab militia, commonly known as Janjaweed and widely believed to be supported by the government, attacked villages, forcing inhabitants from their homes—particularly in those villages and among ethnic groups thought to be sympathetic to the rebels. Now, those rebel groups have splintered into numerous factions and the situation is growing increasingly complex.
Estimates of the total number of people killed vary widely. The Government of Sudan pegs the figure at 10,000, while many activists say the true amount is up to 400,000. Most reports say around 200,000. Violence is one cause of death. Many people have also died from illness and malnutrition—particularly early in the crisis. Since then, the enormous humanitarian response has stabilized conditions in the camps, but renewed insecurity is threatening this progress, and the large-scale displacement of people across Darfur is continuing. Already this year more than 200,000 people have abandoned their homes in the face of ongoing attacks.
More Than 2 Million People Live in Limbo in Crowded Camps
Some of Darfur's camps for displaced people are the size of small cities—teeming with tens of thousands of people, many of them having been there so long that they have replaced their makeshift shelters with homes of mudbrick.. But unlike cities in the western world, these dense settlements have no modern conveniences. Pit latrines and water faucets are all communal. Food is cooked over open fires. At night, it's dark. There is no electricity.
Shortages of basic necessities add to the tedium of days spent with little for people to do. For many stranded in camps far from their villages, fields, and pastureland, life has become one long wait—for food rations, for limited amounts of water, for peace. Because of attacks on its convoys, the World Food Program, which helps to feed more than 3 million people in the region, cut rations in half in May and threatened again in early September to suspend some deliveries. In July,2008, about 50,000 people got no food aid at all because of ongoing insecurity. And now, there are fears that malnutrition is rising again.
But leaving the camps is not an option. Many people no longer have homes to return to: The fighting has reduced their villages to ashes. And venturing beyond the perimeter of the camps exposes people to attack. There are continual reports of women being beaten or sexually assaulted when they leave to collect wood for their cooking fires or fodder for their animals.
Attacks and Hijackings, Kidnappings and Murder Threaten Aid to Darfur
Almost daily attacks—including vehicles being hijacked, aid workers assaulted, offices robbed—have made it increasingly difficult for humanitarian groups to meet the needs of some of the more than four million people across the region who need help. Darfur is a dangerous, and deadly, place to work.
Where are the 26,000 Promised Peacekeepers?
More than five years after the conflict first erupted, millions of people continue to live in fear without adequate protection—even after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution more than twelve months ago approving the deployment of the largest peacekeeping force in the world. Known as UNAMID, the force is meant to have 26,000 military officers, police officers, and civilian personnel. But by September, 2008, only a little more than a third of that force is now at work in Darfur—less than 10,000 troops—and they are short of not only things like helicopters, but some of the most basic equipment, too. Troops have been painting their helmets blue—the color the United Nations uses—because there are not enough UN helmets to go around. And forces can't go out on long patrols because they don't have enough ration packs to support those missions.
The international community has failed the people of Darfur by not giving UNAMID the support it promised. Countries around the world are responsible for the delays in deploying the troops and providing for their needs. The ongoing violence—perpetrated by the Sudanese government, rebel groups, and militias—is also hampering deployment. The logistical challenge is enormous in bringing large numbers of troops and equipment from Port Sudan across 1,000 miles of rough terrain—some of it without roads. And the UN's own lengthy procedures slow the works down, too. But Sudan has agreed to the force and it?s up to the international community to work with the government to ensure the troops are deployed.
UNAMID, however, is only part of the solution. A ceasefire and a return to peace talks are also essential.
The crisis in Darfur can't be resolved in isolation from other conflicts and tension roiling the region. There is violence in Chad and the Central African Republic. The peace in South Sudan is fragile. UNAMID is not the only peacekeeping force in the region. It needs to coordinate closely with others as any change in security in this part of the world could trigger large movements of people across borders. The peacekeepers must plan together to address the safety of everyone.