Forced evacuations and mass rapes; brutal ethnic killings and
rampaging militias; oil profits and arms sales. The deadly mix of
politics, economics, and insecurity has displaced 1.6 million people
and killed tens of thousands in the Darfur region of western Sudan
since early 2003. The United Nations recently described Darfur as
the "world's worst humanitarian crisis."
This is not a humanitarian crisis. It is a war. Humanitarian
assistance, in the absence of political and military engagement, can
actually exacerbate the conflict.
The label "humanitarian crisis" conveniently absolves the rest of
the world from taking political and military action in Darfur. By
providing generous humanitarian assistance, governments and the UN
claim to take meaningful action. But genocide cannot be resolved by
donating blankets and food to the potential victims.
A purely humanitarian approach can worsen the war in three ways.
First, it obscures the political and strategic importance of refugee
populations as potentially destabilizing forces. Second, a
humanitarian response empowers militants and fuels a war economy.
And last, by dispatching aid workers rather than soldiers and
politicians, governments increase the security threats faced by
The crisis has now spread outside Sudan's borders and threatens
to ignite a regional conflict. An estimated 200,000 Sudanese
refugees have escaped from Darfur across the border into Chad.
Policymakers and aid organizations lament the miserable situation of
In addition to the human misery they embody, the refugees also
have the potential to spread the conflict further. Refugees present
a political obstacle to the Sudanese government and a political
opportunity to the rebel forces. The mere presence of the refugees
represents a potent indictment of the Sudanese regime. In response
to the perceived threat, Sudanese forces have raided the refugee
camps and nearby Chadian villages. If sufficiently provoked by cross-
border attacks, Chad could enter the conflict. An international war
will be even harder to resolve and contain than the current civil
The UN has broadcast desperate appeals for increased funding for
basic necessities - such as tents, food, and medical care. It should
also appeal for improved border security to prevent the spread of
Humanitarian assistance empowers the combatants when they control
aid distribution. The combatants - both the Khartoum government and
rebel forces - have used humanitarian assistance as a bargaining
chip. The Sudanese Army and police have repeatedly raided camps for
internally displaced civilians, brutally dispersing the residents. …