Vast humanitarian crisis in Sudan – again
Hillary Rodham Clinton's brief visit to South Sudan provided an opportunity for the United States to show leadership in countering a vast humanitarian crisis in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan. Once again, the world is looking away.
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The constant targeting of arable fields has disrupted two agricultural cycles, leaving people without food. The failure of this spring’s planting ensures that there will be no new food in the fall, and malnutrition indicators – where they can be registered – are already terrifyingly high. As they did in Darfur, Khartoum’s regular and militia forces have torched and destroyed the villages and food-stores of the African Nuba people who live in this border region.Skip to next paragraph
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Why does Khartoum persist with this cruel counter-insurgency strategy in confronting the banned rebel movement in Sudan, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North? Because it’s cheap, and within the Nuba Mountains the rebels are trouncing Khartoum’s military forces. I know from my own time in the area just how determined the Nuba people are: Having faced a jihad extermination in the 1990s, they are not about to acquiesce before Khartoum’s present aggression.
Khartoum also persists because to date it has paid no price for its aerial assaults – or its equally barbarous denial of all humanitarian access to civilians in rebel-controlled regions. Indeed, even when Khartoum deliberately bombed refugee camps in November 2011, international response was barely more than perfunctory. Humanitarian access continues to be completely denied, compelling more people to flee.
Sudan’s long-suffering people have begun their own “Arab Spring,” and we must hope that they succeed in their announced goal of regime change. But given the urgency of the vast humanitarian crisis that is growing at terrifying speed, the international community cannot wait on the sidelines. Tens of thousands of people have died or will die soon; the question is whether the world will act decisively in confronting Khartoum before the number grows to hundreds of thousands.
The UN or a multilateral alliance must be prepared to open humanitarian air and ground corridors to Blue Nile and South Kordofan on an urgent basis. If necessary, armed protection for humanitarian relief efforts should be provided.
International moral and political leadership, as well as a commitment to provide the necessary protective military resources, are of the essence, given the many challenges of such a large and difficult operation. Today's visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, provided a prominent opportunity for the United States to show leadership that has been sadly lacking during the current crises.
More broadly, the UN “responsibility to protect” is a doctrine that has been widely touted by a range of international actors; now is the time to see whether doctrine and reality have anything to do with one another.
Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade.