Friday, April 27, 2007

Humanitarian Challenges: Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic

Event Title: Humanitarian Challenges: Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic
Sponsor: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Date: Thursday, April 19, 2007
Time: 12:00 – 1:30pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 50
Intern Attending: Blake Dublin

Speaker: UN Under-Secretary-General John Holmes

Newly elected UN Under-Secretary-General John Holmes recently returned from a tour of African countries in an effort to understand and assess the current situation in Darfur. The humanitarian effort in Darfur, the largest of any sort in the world, is presently “stable,” but dangerously close to unraveling.

The humanitarian effort itself has, for the most part, been a success. 14,000 relief workers, both Sudanese and international, have largely succeeded in the effort’s principal goal: keeping people alive. Two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps are receiving health care and education, and fulfilling basic needs. But these achievements could easily be wiped out by the two million more IDPs outside of camps, increasing civilian violence, and the building challenge of securing access to those in need. Obstacles put forth by the Sudanese government, including restrictions on travel, monitoring, and recently revealed aircraft painted white with the “UN” logo, are creating barriers to maintaining the humanitarian effort.

The U.N.’s current strategy has three tracks. The first is to maintain the humanitarian effort and save lives. Second, the peacekeeping effort needs to be stepped up. African Union (AU) forces are ill-equipped and low in numbers. UN peacekeeping troops, and more resources are needed to supplement the AU forces. Third, and most important, is a necessary political settlement. Until a political agreement is reached, the humanitarian effort is merely a “band-aid for a horrible infection,” as Holmes put it. He added that with international groups assuming the role of saving lives, there is worry of complacency in the Sudanese government.

What makes the situation particularly volatile is the capability of it spilling across borders, creating vast regional conflict. Bordering Chad has some 235,000 refugees across the Sudanese border, difficultly maintained by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The area is particularly dry, plagued by tribal fighting, and characterized by a dearth of government presence and infrastructure. Many say the area is worse off than Darfur. To date, the Chadian government will not allow the necessary UN peacekeeping forces within their borders.

The Central African Republic, on the southwest border of Sudan, has 200,000 IDPs due to rebel fighting as well. Citizens do not stay in camps, but rather only seven to ten kilometers from their homes in the bush. Fear of home intrusion pervades the city. The Republic is a potentially attractive target for conflict as nomads and farmers may fight over grazing lands plentiful with water. And while talks are taking place between the Ugandan government and the rebel forces of the Lord’s Revolutionary Army, until a peace agreement is attained, 1.4 million IDPs cannot return home. Northern Uganda borders southern Sudan, which has long suffered from intra-tribal conflicts of its own.

Thus, the focus needs to be a regional one. Holmes reiterated the need of continued international humanitarian efforts, and is pushing for increased pressure on all governments involved in the crisis – from host nations to nations with the capability to effect change. The U.N. and other international organizations also need to “do more.” Holmes ended saying that, “the region has to have peace to keep, in order to have peacekeepers.”

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