Relief in Sudan
July 9, 2004
Recently I chaired an Agriculture Committee hearing which addressed international food aid. I asked a witness what the effect would be if U.S. food aid programs were not in place around the world, and this senior official from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said simply, "People will die."
Tragically, that is exactly what is happening in Darfur, Sudan, a destitute part of the world, where human suffering, potentially on the scale of genocide, is occurring.
According to the United Nations, an estimated 3 million people are in need of food aid. Approximately 1.2 million people have been internally displaced, with more than 110,000 having fled.
The government of Sudan has denied or seriously restricted access to relief officials in Darfur. The Arab militia there has engaged in what the UN has described as "ethnic cleansing" of the African ethnic groups.
Since October 2003, USAID has provided over 74,000 metric tons of emergency food aid assistance. They have also established a Disaster Assistance Response Team for Darfur, but the government of Sudan is impeding the team from entering the region, and is obstructing aid delivery.
Last month Secretary of State Powell visited the region to assess the human rights conditions, making him the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Sudan in over two decades an indicator of the seriousness of the situation. In the capital city of Khartoum, Powell stated that the international community "needs to act promptly because people are dying and the death rate is going to go up significantly "
Following Powell's visit and that of U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, the Sudanese government appears to be bowing to international pressure, pledging to rein in their militia allies and permit delivery of humanitarian assistance. While this is an encouraging development, they have given no indication that they are to be trusted.
The same government that gave us these assurances has provided safe haven for major terrorist figures and organizations, including Osama bin Laden. They have also pursued 'holy war' against African Christians and animists in the southern part of the country-bombing their own civilians over 160 times in 2000 alone.
It is deplorable that any government would use the systematic dislocation of its own people, and the disease and starvation that inevitably follow, as a weapon-not to mention the outright violence. In the absence of substantive change, the U.S. is wisely considering Security Council actions, among them sanctions. More than 3.3 billion people around the world have been the recipients of U.S. food assistance. The people of Darfur, Sudan are in desperate need of that same generosity-and we must act to ensure that they receive it.