Khartoum’s Expulsion of Humanitarian Organizations (March 4, 2009)
By Eric Reeves
March 23, 2009
What are the consequences of international failure to regain re-entry for aid organizations providing over half the humanitarian capacity for Darfur? Was the ICC arrest warrant for President al-Bashir the cause of the expulsions? or the pretext? The consequences of the expulsion order, and the threat to expel all aid organizations within a year, demand a response: will it be more than rhetorical?
On March 4 and 5, 2009 the National Islamic Front/National Congress (NIF) regime expelled thirteen of the world’s most distinguished humanitarian organizations from Darfur and the rest of Northern Sudan. The regime also shut down three of the most important Sudanese nongovernmental humanitarian and human rights organizations, with very significant capacity of their own. The expulsion and shutdown orders followed immediately upon the announcement by the International Criminal Court that it had issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, charging him with crimes against humanity and war crimes. All signs point to an extremely well planned response by the regime to a judicial decision that was universally expected. (How many within the regime knew of this brutal response is unclear, although considerable evidence suggests that only an inner circle was involved in the actual decision-making process.)
On top of the expulsions already announced, NIF President al-Bashir declared on March 16 that his regime was determined to remove all international humanitarian organizations from Sudan, north and south, within a year. Predictably, despite the existence of a notional “Government of National Unity” (GNU) in Khartoum, the NIF regime did not consult the Southern Sudanese leadership or its representation in the GNU about either decision. Since al-Bashir and his fellow génocidaires have never committed any Sudanese resources to alleviate acute human suffering and need in Southern Sudan, have never contributed to Southern development, and refuse to implement key terms of the north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it is nothing short of outrageous that al-Bashir should promise to expel international aid, recovery, and development organizations from the South. Indeed, the threat of countrywide expulsions stands as a direct challenge to the viability of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Estimates vary somewhat, but these expulsions and shutdowns reduce overall humanitarian capacity in Darfur by over 50 percent. Other key areas in Northern Sudan will also be badly affected, including Eastern Sudan, the distressed populations outside Khartoum, and the contested areas near the north/south border (Abyei, the Nuba Mountains, and Southern Blue Nile). The numbers of civilians affected is staggering and needs considerable unpacking to be understood properly (see below). The impact of the expulsions is already being felt, and will accelerate rapidly in the coming weeks. Indeed, there are already multiple reports from the ground in Darfur of significant problems in humanitarian assistance, particularly water supplies in a number of camps and a meningitis outbreak in Kalma camp and in camps near Niertiti in West Darfur. Food distribution has also been compromised, and daily rations are reportedly being reduced in some areas. A report to the UN Security Council (March 20, 2009) by senior UN official Rashid Khalikov stressed that “UN aid officials had observed ‘significant signs of an erosion of humanitarian response capacity, with a concurrent impact on the lives of people in Darfur’ since the 13 foreign and three domestic [humanitarian nongovernmental organizations] were expelled” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], March 20, 2009).
We can’t yet know how much further “erosion” humanitarian operations will experience over the coming months, but stop-gap measures now being put in place will certainly begin to collapse or prove increasingly inadequate. For we do know, as has been repeatedly stressed by UN and humanitarian officials, that there is simply no replacement available for the accumulated Darfur-honed knowledge and skills of the expelled organizations. Following an extensive assessment in Darfur, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes yesterday (March 24, 2009) offered a blunt assessment of the stop-gap measures Khartoum has so far offered:
"‘These are band-aid solutions, not long-term solutions,’ [Holmes] told a news conference on the results of an assessment of the situation in Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region carried out jointly by the United Nations and the Sudanese government.” (Reuters [dateline: UN/New York], March 24, 2009)
The results of the “joint assessment” have not been made publicly, but humanitarian workers are already speaking out:
“The humanitarian situation in Darfur is growing more precarious by the day following the expulsion of major aid agencies and a call from the main rebel group for displaced people to refuse any government assistance, NGO officials warned today. The results of the joint UN-government mission to assess the gap in aid provision has not yet been published, but humanitarian workers say the supply of medicine, clean water and food has already been significantly affected, and could worsen in coming weeks.” (The Guardian [dateline: Nairobi], March 24, 2009)
Yet again in Darfur, with a ghastly familiarity, hundreds of thousands of lives are in the balance. But whereas in the past heroic efforts on the part of the world’s largest humanitarian operation have staved off mass starvation and widespread epidemics, there is now only a highly compromised operation that may be yet further reduced by additional near-term expulsions or by intolerable insecurity.
Certainly other humanitarian organizations not affected by the expulsion orders will leave for security reasons (several already have). Four workers for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were kidnapped on March 12 and held for several days. The kidnappings occurred in regime-controlled territory, near camps for the notorious Janjaweed. Although the four were released unharmed, there is every reason to believe that this unprecedented event was a message orchestrated by Khartoum’s security forces (previous kidnappings of international workers, though completely unacceptable, were short-term affairs, designed to gain vehicles, humanitarian supplies, or communications gear).
One senior Western official in Khartoum strongly believes the regime is responsible for these kidnappings, as does (timidly) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (see http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article30489). The motive for the kidnappings could not be clearer: to create a sense of intolerable insecurity that will compel organizations to leave Darfur. And this was precisely the effect on the three remaining national sections of MSF (Belgium, Switzerland, Spain): they have all now withdrawn. With the withdrawal and expulsion of all five national sections of MSF (France and Holland were expelled), primary and secondary medical care has been drastically reduced---to a much greater degree than humanitarian capacity generally.
While there has been an immediate and instinctive effort to blame the ICC for what has occurred in Darfur, and throughout Sudan, this ignores too much recent history. Indeed, the March 16 announcement that all organizations would be expelled from all of Sudan within a year is not separate from, but continuous with the expulsions of March 4-5. Senior officials within the Khartoum regime have long had as their goal the removal of international humanitarian organizations, and the decision to expel thirteen of the largest and most effective organizations was certainly in service of this goal. In short, the ICC arrest warrant for al-Bashir was more pretext than cause of the expulsions. As one Darfur aid official put it:
“‘This was in the works for a long time, one senior aid official involved in Darfur relief said. ‘They [the Khartoum regime] had been waiting for a chance to strike out at these organizations.’” (New York Times [dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], March 22, 2009)
The later threat to remove all international humanitarian organizations within a year, and convert aid operations to an entirely Sudanese affair, offers compelling evidence for this view. The motives for a thoroughgoing purge are not difficult to discern, even as Khartoum has neither the capacity nor the inclination to replace international assistance, despite al-Bashir’s rhetorically extravagant claims. One of the most disturbing motives for the regime’s actions is the desire to shut down the camps and force inhabitants to return to their homes and lands, even if security is non-existent and the destruction of homes, water resources, agricultural tools, and other means of livelihood was total. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reports (March 10, 2009) on yet another propaganda statement to this effect:
“Sudanese [state-controlled] media have called for the closure of the camps. ‘We urge … the concerned authorities to start seriously working out a plan to enable IDPs to return to their villages and dismantling the camps,’ the Sudan Vision newspaper said in an editorial on 10 March.” (Dateline Khartoum)
This campaign goes back to efforts by former Minister of the Interior (and present Minister of Defense) Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein in 2004---in other words at the very height of the violence. The camps are an international embarrassment and the reason that Darfur has become the site of what was the world’s largest humanitarian operation, with more than 13,000 aid workers, over 90 percent of them Sudanese. And aid workers have been able to shed continuous light on the horrific suffering and destruction to which they’ve borne witness. The expulsions have as a primary motive the regime’s desire to remove the eyes of the world from Darfur, and considerable success has now been achieved. As one aid worker put the matter (and all now request anonymity), “We’re very concerned that the witness effect that these organisations have on the ground will also disappear” (Reuters, March 5, 2009).
[Just today Abu Zor camp, near the West Darfur capital of el-Geneina, was set afire, almost certainly by Khartoum’s militia forces. Some 600 dwellings were reported destroyed in this camp of more than 12,000, and at least two people were killed. (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 25, 2009)]
PRESENT AND NEAR-TERM HUMANITARIAN CONSEQUENCES
There is already abundant evidence that humanitarian conditions in some locations are deteriorating rapidly, especially water, sanitation, and primary medical care. A March 13 “situation report” from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs lays out some of the most authoritative quantitative measures of the impact humanitarian expulsions are having (and this is only for Darfur, not other parts of northern Sudan that had been served by the expelled organizations):
 “The expulsion of CARE, Save the Children US, Action Contre la Faim, and Solidarités threatens the distribution of food aid to 1.1 million people. With the loss of all MSF [Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres] chapters, an estimated 7,000 children who are, or will become, moderately or severely malnourished, risk not being treated. Access to targeted feeding programmes in the most vulnerable remote rural areas and IDP camps has been decreased significantly, thus increasing risk of mortality.”
“The interruption of the General Food Distribution threatens the well-being of vulnerable families. This programme ordinarily provides preventive support, without which increased malnutrition will set in. Those who become malnourished will need to be treated with a reduced nutrition infrastructure.”
 “The expulsion of the NGOs is estimated to affect health service delivery for up to 1.5 million people in Darfur. Basic provision of healthcare services, early warning, and sentinel surveillance systems relied heavily on the presence of the now expelled NGOs in a number of areas, including camps.”
“The meningitis outbreak at the Kalma camp in South Darfur is a growing concern. 41 suspected cases have been reported. Nine cases of suspected meningitis have also been confirmed by the HAC [Humanitarian Aid Commission] commissioner for Nertiti, West Darfur. Three tests were positive. Some areas close to Nertiti are not accessible to HAC, and there is a high probability that there are more cases. Because of the expulsions, there is no direct access to health care, as MSF was the only medical actor in the area.”
 “With the rainy season approaching, replenishment of key items such as basic household items and kitchen supplies [as well as emergency shelters---ER] to the population is essential. Most distribution must take place in one month for 700,000 people. Of the 16 NGOs that were expelled, 11 were logistics and emergency shelter sector partners.”
 “Access to adequate amounts of safe drinking water for some 1.16 million people is not assured. UNICEF estimates that only 30 to 35 percent of needs may be addressed in the coming weeks. UNICEF can deploy some staff to support in the initial 1-2 weeks, with Government cooperation. Sanitation and hygiene services have been compromised and chlorination services interrupted in many areas. Basic maintenance of structures is imperative. Trained community members could perform some of these tasks, if facilitated with the necessary equipment and support.”
“If not addressed efficiently and in a timely manner, there is an increased risk of outbreaks of hygiene-preventable illnesses, like diarrhea and cholera. Many remaining facilities such as health and feeding centers relied on water services provided by the now expelled NGOs. Re-supply of water services to such facilities is essential.”
These snapshots only begin to convey how comprehensively destructive of humanitarian efforts the expulsions are and will become.
In addition to expelling these key humanitarian organizations, Khartoum has engaged in a ruthless process of asset stripping, taking from the departing organizations critical equipment:
“Crucial humanitarian assets belonging to the United Nations and NGOs have been confiscated from the expelled humanitarian organizations, including computers, vehicles, and communications equipment.”
(“Situation Report,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, March 13, 2009)
“‘Despite assurances given by the Sudanese Government that harassment and seizure of assets would stop, such reports continued to be received daily,’ [UN Spokeswoman Marie] Okabe said, citing a report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Assets confiscated from the organizations include computers, vehicles and communications equipment, as well as essential data, she said.” (UN News Center, March 10, 2009)
“[UN humanitarian chief John] Holmes added that UN and NGO staff have faced harassment at the hands of Sudanese security forces, including ‘intimidatory behavior.’ He added that UN officials had complained about this to the government. ‘Assets of international NGOs have been confiscated, including in some cases United Nations assets I have to say, things like vehicles and computers, vital data for assistance to beneficiaries, ... food and non-food items,’ he said. Holmes said there were one or two warehouses containing World Food Program food seized by local authorities, which he hoped would be returned.” (Reuters [dateline: UN], March 9, 2009)
Additionally, armed elements accorded impunity by the Khartoum regime have raided a warehouse of one of the expelled organizations. Associated Press reports from al-Salaam Camp (near el-Fasher, North Darfur):
“Refugee camp leaders in Darfur say a dozen men broke into the warehouse of an expelled British aid group, stealing all its contents. Camp leader Adam Mahmoud told Darfur peacekeepers that armed men stormed the site early Saturday, driving off the guards with gunfire. Another leader, Ismail Braima, said the men stole cement sacks and water pipes. The area where the Oxfam-UK center once stood has been emptied of all its contents. This is believed to be the first such looting of an aid group's material since the government expelled Oxfam and 12 foreign aid groups on March 4.” ([dateline: al-Salam Camp, North Darfur], March 21, 2009)
Unfortunately, we may be sure that this will not be the last warehouse raided and that humanitarian assets will continue to be stripped.
OBSTACLES TO KHARTOUM’S PROPOSED STOP-GAP MEASURES
With predictable mendacity, Khartoum claims that the crisis in Darfur is being overstated by the UN and Western nations, and that the regime is capable of filling whatever “gaps” have been left by the thirteen international aid organizations (again, representing over half the total humanitarian capacity). The promise is that over the next year all aid operations can be “Sudanized.”
This is of course not the view from the ground:
“‘We are increasingly concerned at the situation,’ said one aid worker in Darfur, who requested anonymity. ‘There is a massive humanitarian gap left by the NGO expulsion. Hungry people are desperate people.’” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [dateline: Juba], March 23, 2009)
"‘The humanitarian operation was just destroyed’ said an individual associated with the aid effort. ‘There isn’t a humanitarian operation at this point; there is a remainder that will try to cover, but those who were removed were fundamental to everything.’” (Sudan Tribune, March 7, 2009)
A BBC dispatch (March 23, 2009) reports:
“The United Nations says emergency measures put in place following the expulsion of aid agencies from Sudan's [Darfur region] cannot last more than a few weeks…. In some camps more than two months' worth of food has been distributed, but without the complex monitoring to ensure that it goes to those most in need. The difficult process of therapeutic feeding of the worst nourished children is also not taking place.”
The lack of therapeutic feeding is costing lives even now, as is the loss of primary and emergency medical care. A New York Times dispatch from Nyala reports:
“Feeding centers for malnourished children were already seeing hundreds of patients a week, and those numbers normally quadruple in the lean season before the harvest. Without organizations that run the specialized clinics that feed underweight and malnourished children with fortified porridge, more children will surely die, aid workers in Darfur said.” ([dateline: Nyala, South Darfur], March 22, 2009)
The Times’ dispatch began with an individual narrative that will be repeated countless times, throughout Darfur, in the coming days and weeks
“On Friday [March 20, 2009], Haider Ismael al-Amin lay in his mother’s arms, his 10-year-old body withered and weak from dehydration after a night of vomiting. But the door to the clinic was locked. After 30 minutes of waiting, his family gave up. ‘The white people used to come every day,’ said Hawa Hamal Mohammed, a relative of the boy. ‘Now the clinic is closed.’ The American aid group that operated the clinic, the International Rescue Committee, was one of more than a dozen aid groups expelled from Darfur this month by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.”
It is also likely that Khartoum’s actions will further diminish capacity, making the gaps in aid coverage even larger:
“By expelling so many aid workers…and accusing them of being spies, experts say the Sudanese government has created a negative environment for the aid groups in hopes they will eventually be forced out. ‘It is a signal that the field is open for confrontation,’ which encouraged the kidnapping, said Fouad Hikmat, a Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group. ‘You create a push factor’ to drive away the remaining [aid] groups.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], March 15, 2009)
Yet another factor contributing to the attenuation of humanitarian services is the severe limitation in protection afforded by UNAMID in the present tenuous security environment:
“[Speaking anonymously] an officer the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission said they have advised aid groups to centralize operations in secure cities.” (Associated Press [dateline: Khartoum], March 15, 2009)
This is hugely restrictive and ensures that more remote camps and towns, as well as rural populations, will suffer disproportionately from the lack of aid. The Associated Press dispatch continues:
“[Such] security considerations would mean scaling back in the remote areas of Darfur where nearly half of the 4.7 million people receiving aid reside. The aid group expulsion has already left a number of refugee camps without a single aid group to provide services.”
This bears repeating: “The aid group expulsion has already left a number of refugee camps without a single aid group to provide services.”
A dramatic centralization is also demoralizing to the aid workers remaining, who now realize how limited their assistance can be:
"‘We are now in the business of surviving,’ said one aid worker speaking from Darfur. ‘It is hard to get much work done in this environment.’ Already, some refugee camp residents are reporting deteriorating water services and the spread of infectious diseases. UN officials say the capacity of existing aid groups is not enough to fill the gap created by the departing groups.”
Despite its claims, Khartoum has neither the resources, the skilled workers, nor the commitment to provide humanitarian assistance of the quality and quantity previously provided by international organizations. In particular the organizations Khartoum plans to deploy will lack access to the populations in need, access based on a trust that has been built up over years by the expelled organizations. The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reports the view from the ground:
“Aid workers [say] many organisations put forward [by Khartoum] as replacements [for expelled organizations] were closely allied to the government, raising issues of independence and accountability were they to act as partners for foreign aid. ‘It is not a question of simply handing out food; it will not reach the most vulnerable [and] can be manipulated to target select groups or cut out those who are not favoured,’ one aid worker said. ‘There must be a system of accountability; if not, donors will soon dry up.’”
“Aid workers in Khartoum warned that the camps in Darfur would reach crisis point ‘within a few weeks, perhaps even a fortnight,’ unless aid work resumed. ‘First the water supplies will go, without the technicians to repair [them]; then there will be problems with food supplies, then healthcare,’ said one.” (IRIN [dateline: Khartoum], March 10, 2009)
Moreover, the distrust and hatred of Khartoum’s génocidaires is so great that some Darfuris are refusing to accept any aid from the regime. This is most dramatically in evidence in the huge Kalma camp, near Nyala---“home” to some 90,000 displaced persons---and in Kass camps (near the town of Kass, also in South Darfur):
“Aid officials and activists said residents of South Darfur's huge Kalma and Kass camps were refusing aid from state-backed organisations, even though they were running short of medicines, food aid and clean water. Hussein Abu Sharati, who says he represents displaced Darfuris in 158 camps, said Kalma residents had met and voted to refuse all aid from Sudanese groups. ‘They don't see these groups as aid organisations, they see them as tools of the government,’ he told Reuters by satellite phone.”
"‘IDPs (internally displaced people) in Kalma and Kass are refusing all access to the government and local aid groups even if it means receiving less water or a greater risk of disease,’ said an aid worker from one of the ousted organisations, speaking on condition of anonymity. The worker said residents had blocked state deliveries of fuel for their own generators, set up to pump fresh water in to the camp, raising the risk of the spread of diseases like cholera. Camp leaders had refused to let Ministry of Health officials vaccinate residents against a meningitis outbreak.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 19, 2009)
This is the face of an anger that is too little appreciated by those outside Darfur, and represents a determination that will soon very likely be channeled into military outlets. Young men in the camps will have less and less hesitancy about leaving to join the rebel movements, as the region lurches closer to war. The Justice and Equality Movement, which had begun to negotiate with Khartoum in Qatar, has declared there will be no further talks until the aid organizations are allowed to return. In the absence of return, we may expect even more aggressive military moves by JEM, likely better coordinated with the SLA Darfuri rebel factions. This in turn is likely to increase insecurity dramatically for remaining humanitarian organizations, producing yet further large-scale withdrawals.
WATER AND SANITATION
We are destined to hear many times in the coming weeks and months that water shortages are on the increase, which in turn greatly increases the risk of disease. The day after the expulsions (March 5, 2009), Reuters reports:
“The big international agencies providing water to Kass camp in the south and Zalingei in the west have also been given their marching orders. The International Rescue Committee says each camp is home to 100,000 people. ‘The water is going to become an issue sooner rather than later without anyone to fill that gap, and that's very concerning for all of us in the international community, and it really should be of grave concern to the Sudanese government,’ [said Kurt] Tjossem, [IRC's Regional Director for Horn and East Africa].”
The Guardian reports in the same vein:
“‘What has happened [with the expulsions of humanitarian organizations] has gone far beyond our worst expectations,’ said Kurt Tjossem, regional director for International Rescue Committee, which provides health and water services to 650,000 people in Darfur. ‘It's chaos. We looked for other organisations to hand over our projects to but they have also been kicked out.’ In Kass, for example, where there are 100,000 displaced people, all four agencies providing water services have been expelled.” ([dateline: Nairobi], March 5, 2009)
Zam Zam camp, near el-Fasher in North Darfur, poses particular problems because of a massive influx of displaced persons from Muhajeria (South Darfur), where a brutal military assault by the regime in early February forced tens of thousands to flee. Most went to Zam Zam, which is now overwhelmed:
“The situation in some areas of Darfur, say aid workers, is deteriorating. Zam Zam camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in North Darfur, for example, faces an acute crisis if urgent measures are not taken, the US embassy in Khartoum warned in a statement. The camp has received some 36,000 new arrivals fleeing fighting in South Darfur. ‘There is a growing water shortage due to the demand created by recent IDP arrivals and the lack of available water resources at the camp,’ an embassy spokesman said. ‘In addition, the influx of new IDPs has created a need for more land to accommodate the overflow.’” (UN IRIN [dateline: Juba, South Sudan], March 23, 2009)
More broadly, the engineering expertise in water and sanitation has been largely lost with the expulsions:
"‘There are no NGOs’---nongovernmental organizations---‘with the capacity to [replace the lost expertise],’ said David Clatworthy, a water and sanitation coordinator in Darfur for the International Rescue Committee, a US-based group that also was expelled. Clatworthy helped run projects in three sites in Darfur, pumping some 1.5 million gallons of drinking water daily into camps that house 167,000 displaced people. When diesel fuel for the pumps runs out and the water taps need replacing---250 taps wear out every month from overuse---no one will be around to do it, he fears.” (McClatchy Newspapers [dateline: Nairobi], March 11, 2009)
These are the critical engineering challenges to maintaining the diesel-powered boreholes that provide the vast majority of water inside the camps. Loss of a consistent supply of fuel, or chlorination by trained personnel, or lack of repair abilities will result in water shortages leading to dehydration and the consumption of untreated water. In overcrowded camps, the chances for the spread of water-borne disease will skyrocket, especially as the rainy season approaches. Fears of cholera epidemics exploding out of the camps are reported in virtually all accounts of the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Hygiene is also deteriorating, as assessed by a range of metrics. Less than half the soap required on a monthly basis is being distributed in a number of locations. Latrine maintenance is already starting to deteriorate, with extremely serious health implications. Sanitation and waste disposal are essential to avoid epidemics, and this is already slipping badly (especially near Kass, with its constraining geographical location).
Kits of shelter materials were to have been distributed by several of the expelled aid organizations to some 700,000 households before the rainy season (June through September): to provide protection against the fierce rains, as a barrier against malaria-bearing mosquitoes, and to give warmth on cold nights. The UN Joint Logistics Center is prepared to distribute fewer than 40,000.
The UN World Food Program (WFP), with the critical assistance of its enabling INGO partners, was able to reach as many as 3 million people in need during the last hunger gap (which begins before the rainy season and ends only with the first fall harvests). In the wake of Khartoum’s expelling of these organizations, there will be no way that this figure can be approached during the impending hunger gap. The UN News Center (March 10, 2009) reports:
“The World Food Programme (WFP), meanwhile, says that four of the expelled non-governmental organizations were crucial partners who were providing 35 per cent of its food distribution capacity in Darfur, distributing food to 1.1 million people plus 5,500 malnourished children and mothers receiving supplementary feeding….” [MSF, all five national branches of which have been expelled or withdrawn, provided even more aid to malnourished children--ER]
Indeed, food distribution is already failing in serious ways. In assessing the impact of diminished food distributions, the World Food Program expresses the fear that, “the departure of these NGOs will leave a huge gap in humanitarian access and may result in further chaos in the form of riots and population movement as poor groups move to other areas in search of humanitarian aid” (WFP Press release, March 11, 2009). The threat of violence and population migrations has not received nearly enough attention, given its destabilizing potential. As one aid worker in Darfur remarked (again on condition of anonymity, for fear of expulsion), "‘We are increasingly concerned at the situation. There is a massive humanitarian gap left by the NGO expulsion. Hungry people are desperate people.’"
Given this desperation, it is impossible to predict how many Darfuris will cross the border into Chad, where humanitarian capacity will seem comparatively greater and more stable. Aid organizations operating in Eastern Chad are presently engaged in contingency planning for an influx as great as 200,000---this in addition to the more than 250,000 Darfuri refugees already in Chad. Moreover, these new refugees will likely move sooner rather than later:
“If the absence of [humanitarian] services does force Darfuris over the border, ‘they will likely go soon, before the rainy season makes travel far more
difficult,’ CARE, one of the expelled agencies, recently warned.” (UN IRIN [dateline: Cairo], March 20, 2009)
Even more threatening, in terms of competition for scarce food, will be a migration from southern South Darfur into the Bahr el-Ghazal province of Southern Sudan. An alarming report by the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) notes first the already grim food security situation in Southern Sudan, and goes on to declare:
“The potential movement of 1.5 million displaced Darfur residents into southern Sudan's Northern and Western Bahr El Gazal states, due to disruptions in humanitarian assistance, presents a severe threat to food security in the two states.” (March 20, 2009)
More than “severe,” the threat is potentially explosive, with a high probability of violence that might make aid distribution even more difficult for both the indigenous and migrating populations. Famine is no stranger to Bahr el-Ghazal, and the danger presented by mass migration southward from Darfur needs to be anticipated in all possible ways.
The FEWS report also notes:
"Though the number of potential IDPs is unclear, even small inflows could have a severe impact on food security in localised areas."
In this context the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks notes:
“250,000 people in Northern and Western Bahr el Gazal were already moderately food-insecure; peak food shortages typically occur between April and August. A large IDP population could quickly exhaust existing resources, while a significant inflow could make Northern and Western Bahr el Gazal highly or extremely food-insecure.” ([dateline: Juba], March 23, 2009)
Yet another critical gap in overall humanitarian food operations will occur with the collapse of efforts to preposition adequate food supplies prior to the rainy season, during which overland transport to many locations is physically impossible. Some 2 million people will be beyond reach. While access may be secured for the major hubs (Nyala, el-Fasher, and el-Geneina), more remote sites will see a dramatic fall off, even as current food distributions (formerly conducted in many cases by expelled INGOs) have begun to be compromised, which will soon lead to increasing malnutrition---this prior to the actual start of the annual “hunger gap.”
A March 10, 2009 dispatch from the UN News Center reported:
“The World Health Organization (WHO) warned [that in the wake of the humanitarian expulsions] more than 1.5 million persons would no longer have access to primary healthcare, and that immunizations would be disrupted, with the greatest threat being an outbreak of meningitis reported in the Kalma Camp that currently houses 89,000 people.”
Meningitis is indeed currently the most revealing health crisis in Darfur, affecting not only Kalma camp but those near Niertiti as well. The populations in and around Kalma have in the main not been vaccinated against meningitis (the vaccine is effective for three years), a problem that was to have been addressed by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), with a vaccination campaign scheduled to have begun two days after the expulsion order. Now, there is no one to administer the vaccination program, and regime officials attempting to enter Kalma are being denied. This is not simply stubborn defiance, as Africa Confidential notes in its most recent issue:
“Khartoum said ‘more than 2,000’ local aid agencies were waiting in the wings to take over the NGOs’ work. Internally displaced people in some camps were soon refusing help from the newcomers. They know that the regime, which drove them into camps in the first place, has always used some ‘charities’ as front organisations for security operations and also for missionary work. The NIF already used ‘aid workers’ for these ends during Darfur’s 1983-85 famine, long before it came to power, and after its 1989 coup in the South [Sudan] and Nuba Mountain war zones.” (Africa Confidential, March 20, 2009, Vo. 50, No. 6)
The Associated Press reports from the highly distressed Zam Zam camp (March 21, 2009) another telling reason that Darfuris in the camps distrust Khartoum and its “aid agencies”:
“Many refugees deeply distrust government aid and suspect that Khartoum just wants to drive them out of the camps.”
And in fact senior regime officials have made numerous public statements since 2004 about shutting down the camps and forcing people to returning to their “homes,” whether they exist or not, whether adequate security obtains or doesn’t.
If meningitis is the current health crisis, the future looks even bleaker. As malnutrition deepens, as clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and without remotely adequate primary health care, all diseases will become life-threatening. Cholera, dysentery, and malaria will be the big killers, but the halting of vaccination programs for childhood diseases (including measles and polio) will take its toll as well. It is important to remember that the UN operates at Security Level IV in Darfur (Security Level V entails emergency evacuations). As a consequence, UN agencies such as the World Health Organization cannot travel to many of the locations served by the expelled humanitarian organizations, which have often been the only health providers in more remote regions. These people will be completely defenseless against disease. Malnourished, lacking in clean water, and without medical resources, Darfuris will die in catastrophic numbers.
OTHER AFFECTED AREAS
Khartoum’s expulsion order affects the work of those organizations working not only in Darfur but other highly distressed regions of the country: Eastern Sudan, with malnutrition and morbidity indexes that are as great as those in Darfur; Southern Blue Nile, one of the least developed areas in Sudan; Southern Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains, a region of serious confrontation between African and Arab ethnic groups, and a potential flash point for renewed north/south war; and the Abyei enclave, on the north/south border---another flash point for renewed war. We have no substantial data or reporting on the consequences of humanitarian expulsions for these areas, but over 1 million people are affected by Khartoum’s supremely callous actions. Many of these innocent civilians will also die because of a decision made by a few men who have never even traveled to the regions they are putting in such desperate danger.
Reuters reported on March 6, 2009 (dateline: Khartoum) that:
“Senior humanitarian officials said the expulsions had left large areas of the highly-charged regions of Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, along Sudan's contested north-south border, without any humanitarian cover.”
Save the Children/USA and Save the Children/UK were among the organizations expelled, and the international secretary general of the aid groups was explicit about consequences:
“Save the Children---which also had its UK arm shut down this week---said the decision would have a serious impact on its work in Southern Kordofan, Abyei and other areas of Sudan, including west Darfur. ‘If we are forced to stop our work the lives of hundreds of thousands of children could be at risk,’ the organisations' international secretary general Charlotte Petri said in a statement.” (Reuters [dateline: Khartoum], March 6, 2009)
And Britain’s Oxfam declared that, “Its programmes, that covered water, hygiene, schooling and other areas in Darfur and underdeveloped eastern Sudan, would collapse within weeks if it was not allowed to return.” (Additionally, many hundreds of thousands of Darfuri children who were enrolled in school, with no other constructive activities available, have lost that precious opportunity with humanitarian expulsions.)
Nor should we forget the work of the distinguished Sudanese humanitarian and human rights organizations that were shut down as the international organizations were being expelled: SUDO (the Sudan Social Development Organization), the Amal Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Khartoum Center for Human Rights Development and Environment. These organizations served hundreds of thousands of Sudanese throughout the country. SUDO says in its letter of dissolution, on the occasion of being shut down by Khartoum:
“SUDO is the biggest national organization undertaking humanitarian and development assistance to the most needy and most vulnerable Sudanese people through 10 field offices in North, South and West Darfur, South Kordofan, Nuba mountains, North Kordofan, Blue Nile and Khartoum. Our current operations provide urgent and life saving assistance to over 700,000 IDPs and poor farmers in different parts of the country, especially Darfur. Our work is and has always been purely humanitarian and is mostly needed at this time of our country.”
These organizations and their importance to Sudan have been largely overlooked, even as Sudan can never thrive if it remains dependent upon international organizations for humanitarian and development assistance. Of course this certainly doesn’t bear on the present moment of urgent need; it does remind us that international organizations should have been doing more to “Sudanize” their operations: the alternative now is the brutal “Sudanizing” contemplated by al-Bashir and the National Islamic Front regime.
WHAT KHARTOUM’S “SUDANIZING” OF AID TO DARFUR MEANS
Despite the massive crisis precipitated by Khartoum’s humanitarian expulsions and shutdowns, the regime remains defiant, adamantly declaring again and again that its decision is “irrevocable.” This has been the unchanging rhetorical tune from the beginning of the crisis, and there are no signs of a bending of the regime’s political will. On the other hand, Khartoum’s unqualified “irrevocable” is matched by declarations from the Obama administration, the UN Secretariat, and the Europeans that these expulsions are “not acceptable.” President Obama used the phrase early on in the crisis: “
“‘I impressed upon the [UN] secretary general how important it is from our perspective to send a strong unified international message that it is not acceptable to put that many people's lives at risk, that we need to be able to get those humanitarian organizations back on the ground,’ Obama said.” (Agence France-Presse [dateline: UN/New York], March 11, 2009)
Almost two weeks later, and three weeks after the expulsions---with a significant loss of life, increasing morbidity, and a continuing deterioration of humanitarian infrastructure---“irrevocable” seems to trump “not acceptable.” Certainly Obama did not use the opportunity presented by his March 24 news conference to find a way to reiterate his declaration that humanitarian expulsions from Darfur are “not acceptable.” This comes at the very moment that humanitarian organizations, diplomats, UN officials, and Sudanese political observers indicate that the regime has no intention of reversing its decision, but rather is fully committed to the obscene notion that it can “fill the gaps” left after the expulsion of aid groups, this by the vaguely outlined and utterly implausible “Sudanizing” of efforts in Darfur (though no mention is made of the other regions in Sudan severely affected by the expulsions). It is worth rehearsing the roster of proposals and claims with which Khartoum seeks to defend the expulsions, if only to see how brazenly the regime feels it may spit in the face of the international community.
"‘We will be able to pay for [these humanitarian programs] from our own pockets,’ Bashir said during a recent speech in Darfur. ‘When this started years ago, it was only the government that was helping the refugees. We have enough food. We can cover their needs.’” (Los Angeles Times [dateline: Zam Zam camp, North Darfur], March 17, 2009)
For a more reliable historical touchstone, here are the words of Tom Vraalsen, UN Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs, in the first year of the genocide:
"‘Delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need is hampered mostly by *systematically denied access* [latter phrase emphasized in text]. While [Khartoum's] authorities claim unimpeded access, they greatly restrict access to the areas under their control, while imposing blanket denial to all rebel-held areas.’” (Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, Note to the Emergency Relief Coordinator; "Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis in Darfur," December 8, 2003)
Such obstruction and systematic denial of aid has continued relentlessly for over five years, and has been amply documented in numerous human rights reports. Moreover, Khartoum has provided negligible aid assistance of its own, to Darfur or to any of the areas affected by expulsions of INGOs. The grossly misnamed “Humanitarian Affairs Commission” (HAC) is universally reported by humanitarian organizations to have been an instrument of obstruction and harassment, ultimately doing the bidding of Khartoum’s security forces. Indeed, HAC has---through bureaucratic delays, countless work and travel restrictions, capricious demands, and deliberate intimidation of workers---compromised humanitarian capacity in Darfur by perhaps 10 percent according to one major aid organization.
And what of the present? What will Khartoum be providing? Judging by the past, it will certainly not be food. To date in the conflict the regime has contributed a negligible amount of grain, and what has been given was infested with maggots. Instead, grain and other staples must be brought from abroad to Port Sudan, and then transported to Khartoum and on to Darfur. And even here there has been obstruction from the beginning of the crisis; in November 2003, as humanitarian needs were growing, I noted:
“Khartoum has refused to accept food aid from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on completely spurious grounds. Claiming that US sorghum and wheat are genetically modified, the Khartoum regime denied entrance at Port Sudan to a critical food shipment. But as Khartoum well knows, the US does not export or even grow genetically modified sorghum or wheat. Some strains of other grains have been genetically modified---but not these two key staples. Extraordinarily, this was reported in Khartoum by Kamal al Sadig in Al-Ayam:
“‘In a new development on the USAID confined food crisis, the Ministry of Agriculture has reaffirmed refusal to allow entrance of the food into the country and distributing it, claiming that the food is genetically modified.’” (Al-Ayam, November 16, 2003; issue no 7825)
When it was not busy obstructing food deliveries---and too often medical supplies---Khartoum has shamefully engaged in lucrative food exports, even as its own people are malnourished, in Darfur and elsewhere, living on a diet below the UN kilocalorie minimum. In August of 2008, New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman filed from Ed Damer (north of Khartoum) a remarkable dispatch highlighting just how perverse national agricultural policy is under the regime. Noting that Sudan “receives a billion pounds of free food from international [aid] donors, [even as it] is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries,” Gettleman asks, “why is a country that exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anywhere else in the world, especially when the Sudanese government is blamed for creating the crisis [in Darfur] in the first place?” An excellent question, which the international community refuses to ask with sufficient resolve, particularly given present humanitarian conditions throughout Sudan.
The details of this ghastly perversion of priorities are revealing of how ruthlessly the regime has arrogated to itself all opportunities for significant economic gain:
“[Sudan] is already growing wheat for Saudi Arabia, sorghum for camels in the United Arab Emirates and vine-ripened tomatoes for the Jordanian Army. Now the government is plowing $5 billion into new agribusiness projects, many of them to produce food for export.”
“Take sorghum, a staple of the Sudanese diet, typically eaten in flat, spongy bread. Last year, the United States government, as part of its response to the emergency in Darfur, shipped in 283,000 tons of sorghum, at high cost, from as far away as Houston. Oddly enough, that is about the same amount that Sudan exported, according to United Nations officials. This year, Sudanese companies, including many that are linked to the government in Khartoum, are on track to ship out twice that amount, even as the United Nations is being forced to cut rations to Darfur.”
(August 10, 2008 at www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/world/africa/10sudan.html)
Is it conceivable that with such grossly distorted priorities Khartoum will suddenly become beneficent with its own people? A report from the Los Angeles Times suggests not:
“It's unclear whether any additional funds have been allocated to the region [by Khartoum]. Many Sudanese aid workers are skeptical of their own capacity. ‘We can't do it without more money and more people,’ said Khalil Sammani, spokesman for the Sudanese Red Crescent Society. So far, Sammani said, his agency has received neither. About 90 percent of the group's funding comes from European countries and the United Nations. It gets nothing from the Sudanese government, he said.” ([dateline: Zam Zam camp, North Darfur], March 17, 2009)
“Nothing” from the Khartoum regime---and without oversight, funding from Western donor countries and the UN will likely diminish. Continuing UN support is certainly not encouraged by the fact that Khartoum’s security forces confiscated, sometimes violently, a great many UN resources (this in the process of stripping all assets from the expelled nongovernmental humanitarian organizations).
Khartoum’s real effort has not been to fund humanitarian operations but rather to denigrate the generosity of aid organizations and their private donors (often referred to as “Zionists,” whose only motive is to support spying efforts in Darfur). On March 7 al-Bashir, “described the expelled aid agencies as ‘thieves’ who take ‘99 percent of the budget for humanitarian work themselves, giving the people of Darfur 1 percent’” (UN IRIN [dateline: Khartoum], March 10, 2009).
How can we take seriously any commitment coming from a regime willing to lie so preposterously, so conspicuously, so carelessly? Is such a statement not an implicit confession that al-Bashir and his cabal simply don’t care about either the truth or humanitarian realities? Even the cobbled together plan to “replace” expelled organizations has changed dramatically since the expulsions were originally announced. At first it was to be Sudanese national nongovernmental organizations (NNGOs) that were to fill the massive gaps in the sectors of water, food, medical care, sanitation and hygiene. The regime went so far as to claim “2,000” NNGOs were at the ready. Now the regime has switched gears, giving the lead to various ministries and governmental institutions. This means that the Ministry of Health, the State Water Corporation, and the Office of Water, Environment & Sanitation will be undertaking immense and critical tasks for which they have neither the resources nor the delivery capacity. Most significantly, as government organs they will be rejected by huge numbers of Darfuris.
This lurching from one strategy to another, with 4.7 million lives on the line, is all too revealing of the callousness of the National Islamic Front regime.
THE “UNACCEPTABLE” BECOMES ACCEPTABLE
The ostensible reason for the expulsion of international humanitarian organizations was their cooperation with the ICC, hence the coordination of the expulsions and the ICC announcement of a warrant for al-Bashir, charging him with crimes against humanity and war crimes. In yet another preposterous assertion, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Mutrif Siddig “told the state SUNA news agency that the aid groups' cooperation with the ICC had been ‘proved by evidence’” (Reuters [dateline: el-Fasher, North Darfur], March 7, 2009).
Of course not a shred of this evidence has been produced publicly---for the simple reason it does not exist. But this is hardly a concern of the NIF regime, an inexhaustible font of mendacity.
Lies simply don’t matter if your enterprise is blackmail, and that is precisely what Khartoum is attempting with the international community: “don’t push us further on the ICC arrest warrant or we will further compromise aid efforts; don’t contemplate military action or we will engage in brutal reprisals against humanitarians, whom we will declare to be spies.” It is not accidental that Khartoum’s plan---long in the making---was to expel “only” about half the humanitarian capacity in Darfur: the other half is to continue as a collective hostage---allowed to perform humanitarian tasks on a highly restricted basis, compromised by the expulsions, and working in an environment increasingly insecure and paralyzing. But still this represents a significant capacity, and if it were to evacuate the UN would be completely without the enabling partners upon which its depends: all humanitarian operations of significance would cease.
Such blackmail must be accepted for what it is and must inform policy responses to the Khartoum regime. It may be rhetorically satisfying for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare,
"‘The real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum [to get them] to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps.” (Voice of America [dateline: Washington, DC], March 17, 2009)
But this is an extraordinarily misconceived notion of “pressure” on al-Bashir and the regime: they don’t need to be pressured to “understand” their responsibility because they already know full well. And if the suggestion is that they will be pressured by accruing further responsibility for deaths in Darfur (“they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps”), this is absurd: al-Bashir (and eventually all senior members of the NIF cabal) face multiple charges of crimes against humanity, for which they are most certainly responsible. The recent expulsions themselves constitute extremely serious violations of international law and international humanitarian law, and are being investigated by the UN human rights office. Does Secretary Clinton think that additional deaths going forward---on whatever scale, generating whatever charges---can alter the thinking of this genocidal regime? This is the yet again the substitute of rhetoric for action, and is perceived as such by Khartoum.
The truth is that the US, the European nations, and others professing concern for Darfur failed to anticipate the clear possibility of a strenuous move by Khartoum. As a result they were caught flat-footed in the event. There had been, for example, no marshalling of diplomatic resources to persuade China to act in concert with other concerned nations in the event Khartoum went to extremes. There was no real diplomatic engagement with either the Arab League or the African Union, attempting to secure their efforts in constraining Khartoum’s response. (The Chinese and some Arab and African countries are reliably reported as being highly distressed by Khartoum’s expulsions: why could that distress not have been anticipated and made the basis for negotiations on how to moderate regime behavior?)
What we know now is that there is no simple way out of this excruciating crisis. The view of a Darfur campaigner for Amnesty International---
“‘The question is, Do we allow a regime to blackmail an independent judicial process by taking its population hostage?’ said Denise Bell, Darfur campaigner with Amnesty International. ‘This is not a matter of justice or security, or security or peace. They can all happen together.’” (Journal of Philanthropy, March 6, 2009)
---seems painfully naïve. “Justice,” “security” for humanitarians, and “peace” are inextricably intertwined in Darfur, no doubt. But her facile generalization---“they can all happen together”---suggests nothing by way of an answer to the most basic question of the moment: how do we secure readmission for humanitarian organizations, with adequate security guarantees, and leave the ICC warrant for al-Bashir undeferred? Unfortunately, the force of her rhetorical question---“do we allow a regime to blackmail an independent judicial process by taking its population hostage?---is entirely dissipated by the clear evidence that Khartoum is indeed using Darfur successfully in blackmailing the entire international community.
Again, a survey among humanitarians, diplomats, UN officials, and government figures provides no evidence that Khartoum intends to reverse its expulsion decision. This leaves us staring squarely at the reality described by one aid worker, already cited:
"‘The humanitarian operation was just destroyed’ said an individual associated with the aid effort. ‘There isn’t a humanitarian operation at this point; there is a remainder that will try to cover, but those who were removed were fundamental to everything.’”
At this point, the words of major international actors, whether tepid or strenuous, inevitably suggest that this “unacceptable” catastrophe has become acceptable. Of course this is hardly new: it defines the world response to Darfur over the past six years.