The Other Big Tragedy

Darfur is a long way from the ocean and the threat of a tsunami. Yet the casualty figures for the continuing tragedy in that province of Sudan are coming closer to those in the Indian Ocean disaster: 2.3 million left homeless and 70,000 dead. The great destroyer in this case, however, is a needless civil war.

Media images of Darfur's victims aren't as dramatic or as easy to come by as in Asia's devastation. The suffering is not as massive, sudden, or unusual as that from a rare and raging wave. As a result, its survivors aren't receiving nearly the same outpouring of money as the tsunami survivors. In fact, the Darfur region is in need of more than $182 million, according to the UN.

This uneven expression of global generosity points up a need for both governments and individuals to rethink the very nature of giving.

Is it proportionate to the various needs in the world? Can a minimum level be sustained over time to ensure final recovery? Is giving simply attuned to the degree of horribleness of a disaster or the level of media attention, and not its true impact on the number of lives?

Still, Darfur - as well as a conflict in Congo that's claimed nearly 4 million lives since 1998 - really needs as much grass-roots political outrage as money. China, for instance, continues to obstruct tougher UN actions in Darfur because Sudan is a big oil supplier to its economy.

A settlement in Darfur between Arabs and the province's black Africans seems far off, despite efforts by other African nations to quell the violence and a tentative settlement in another, longer conflict in southern Sudan.

The US has labeled the killing in Darfur a genocide. Despite that, the world's compassion, for now, flows largely to another part of the world.

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