We Need a Summit for Sudan: After the Expulsion of Aid Agencies, the Hell of Darfur Will Only Get Worse-Unless the Rest of the World Acts Swiftly to Intervene

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"Little short of hell on earth" is how Kofi Annan once described the situation in Darfur. Ever since the brutal, Sudanese government-led counter-insurgency began there in 2003, it has been the remarkable work of humanitarian aid agencies that has allowed the 2.7 million people displaced by the conflict some measure of hope, dignity and survival.

On 5 March, the government of Sudan expelled 13 of those aid agencies. As a result, the situation in Darfur is no longer "little short of hell on earth": for the suffering people of Darfur, hell has well and truly arrived.

On 4 March, the International Criminal Court had announced that it was issuing an arrest warrant for President Omar el-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. Bashir reacted in an all-too-familiar way--with criminal disregard for the lives of his own civilians. Thirteen leading international aid agencies were expelled, including Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam. Between them, these agencies provide more than half of all the aid delivered in northern Sudan.

I was last in Darfur in late 2005. I still remember the desperate plea from a woman I met during a visit to a village that had just been bombed by government planes: "Please stay with us, don't leave us," she begged. Back then, I could not have imagined that life in Darfur could get any worse. But I fear that the 2.7 million traumatised and terrorised victims are now more isolated than ever.

The government of Sudan has inflicted the most damaging setback for delivery of aid since the conflict in Darfur began in 2003. The potential human impact of all this is unimaginable but not entirely incalculable. We know, for example, that the expulsion of the aid agencies threatens to leave more than one million people without water, more than 1.1 million without food and 1.5 million without health care. People without water start to die after five days; children die first, and even if they do survive they remain physically and intellectually damaged for the rest of their lives.

This is happening already. At Kalma camp in south Darfur, home to roughly 90,000 people, water stopped being pumped last Wednesday, and there is no other source--clean or otherwise. As I write this and you read it, people will be dying from thirst. At Kass camp, home to 48,000 people, the main water pumps stopped working with immediate effect on 4 March. Disease will surely spread rapidly as a result, and the suffering will be compounded by the severe reduction in access to medical services.

It is no exaggeration to say that we could soon see a replay of the apocalyptic scenes of 1994, when I visited the refugee camps of Goma. Tens of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda died there of cholera and diarrhoea.

The remaining agencies in Sudan simply cannot fill the gap left by the expulsions. The United Nations cannot fill the gap, either--much of the UN's work is actually delivered on the ground by the agencies that have been expelled. …