In May 2004, Roger Winter, the Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, told a House committee that it was inevitable that "more than 100,000 people will die no matter what" in Darfur, Sudan by the end of the year. Winter went on to warn that, in a worst-case scenario, the number could reach as high as 350,000.
One year later, the estimated death toll stands at more than 300,000. The actual number of deaths is nearly impossible to determine given that the government of Sudan, fearing the truth, refuses to grant access to the World Health Organization so that it can conduct a mortality survey. Nonetheless, knowledgeable observers agree that thousands have died at the hands of the Sudanese government and their proxy militia, the Janjaweed (a term meaning "Devils on Horseback") and tens of thousands more have died of disease and starvation after having their villages destroyed in government-led attacks. More than 2 million Darfurians have been internally displaced, the agricultural economy has been decimated and an estimated 3-4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Nearly two years ago, the Muslim government in Khartoum was in the process of finalizing a peace accord that would end a twenty year civil war between the government in the North and the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the South that had taken some 2 million lives. Fearful that the Western region of Darfur was going to continue to be ignored in the new coalition government that was being formed, African rebels launched a series of raids against government facilities. Rather than negotiate with the rebel forces in the West, the government of Sudan enlisted Arab militias in a campaign to wipe out the rebels and anyone suspected of supporting them. In the process, hundreds of villages have been destroyed, tens of thousands have been raped and killed, and millions have been displaced.
The international community has responded in a haphazard fashion. The African Union secured the deployment of some 4,000 troops to the region, though its mandate was limited to monitoring a cease-fire that neither side honored. Less than 2,000 AU soldiers have arrived and they have limited logistical capabilities for covering this area roughly the size of Texas, nor do they have a mandate that allows them to protect civilians. The United Nations has been plagued by inaction, with China and Russia using their veto power to water down Security Council resolutions seeking sanctions or demanding accountability. A recent UN investigation detailed massive war crimes and crimes against humanity but stopped short of calling the campaign a genocide, a declaration the United States made last September. For now, much of the debate is focused on where any cases arising from this situation will be tried: the International Criminal Court or some Africa-based tribunal.
Angered by the lackluster response to what is widely acknowledged as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis," a group of bloggers have formed a Coalition for Darfur to do what little they can. We seek to raise awareness of the crisis in Darfur, but also to raise money for the vital work that Save the Children is doing by providing food, water, shelter, and protection to over 200,000 children and families in Darfur each month.
Together, and with your support, we hope to make a small but meaningful contribution to alleviating the massive suffering that continues to plague the region. Please consider making a donation via our Coalition for Darfur blog.