Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, made a vitally important briefing to the Security Council today warning that "all of our nightmares have become realities" in Darfur and that without fast and robust action "hundreds of thousands could be needlessly lost."“We need immediate action on the political front to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe with massive loss of life,” says Egeland. “Since 2004 we have seen tens of thousands of deaths each year. If the humanitarian operation were to collapse, we could see hundreds of thousands of deaths. In short, we may end up with a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale in Darfur.”
To read the rest of Egeland’s speech—in which he explores the factors leading to this briefing—see Coalition for Darfur or Relief Web.
So, what’s going on in Darfur and why should we care? As I’ve outlined before on this blog, millions in Darfur are living in horrible conditions after being driven from their villages, livelihood and homes by the civil war in Sudan - often by the Janjaweed, an Arab militia recruited from local tribes and armed by the government. Many live in squalid conditions in Internal Displaced Person (IDP) camps, and hundreds of thousands are effectively cut off from aid because of the region’s remoteness. Tens of thousands have already died of starvation and disease while those who live in the camps and surrounding areas continue to face killings, torture and rape by government forces and militias.
In addition to the millions in Darfur, over a million people are living in similar camps in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, driven from their homes by the Lord Resistance Army, a band of Ugandan rebels who torture, mutilate and kill villagers and kidnap children to use as soldiers, sex-slaves and laborers. While peace talks are underway, tens of thousands of children—“night commuters”—leave their homes in rural areas every afternoon to walk several miles into neighboring cities where they spend the night on sidewalks in hopes of escaping abduction and abuse by LRA. If they don’t find one of the few refuges set up by religious or relief organizations—which may house thousands of children each per night—they are often abused or raped anyway.
That’s at least three and a half million people—many of whom are children—displaced, abducted, dying and otherwise suffering as a result of civil wars in Sudan and Uganda. That’s a population over three times that of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina.
For more on the background to Darfur (and how you can make a difference there), see this blog’s Darfur/Sudan category, World Vision, Wikipedia, SaveDarfur or Coalition for Darfur. For background on Uganda and to find out how you can help, see this blog’s Uganda category, World Vision or Invisible Children.
(Image: by katmere at flickr.com)