The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster
By Stephen Gowans
In a speech before the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the conflict in Darfur “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today.” (1)
Britain, along with the United States and other Western countries, have been pushing Sudan to accept a beefed up contingent of peacekeepers in Darfur. The new mission, which will operate under UN command, will replace the current African Union mission.
The AU mission represented a compromise between African nations and the West.
“The Americans and Europeans promised…that as long as the Africans deployed in these kinds of situations, (they) would pay for the soldiers and equip them.” (2)
That suited the Sudanese government, which feared the West would use a UN peacekeeping mission to re-colonize Sudan.
But Washington wasn’t pleased. The Bush administration complained of “the pervasive role played by the government of Sudan in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries,” describing Khartoum’s stewardship of the country’s oil resources as a threat to “U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.” (3)
Western financial support for the AU mission began to dry up. Soon after, Washington started to call for a UN force, arguing that the (underfinanced) AU mission was too small and too underequiped to be effective.
After months of pressure, cajoling and threats from Washington, the UN Security Council finally gave Washington want it wanted. It authorized the deployment of 26,000 soldiers and police to Darfur under UN, not AU, command.
Brown’s describing the conflict in Darfur as “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today” was intended to raise support for the new UN mission.
But is Darfur really the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster?
Not by a long shot. There are many humanitarian disasters, but few are as great as one Brown’s own government shares a large part in creating: Iraq.
“Iraq’s civilians are suffering from a denial of fundamental human rights in the form of chronic poverty, malnutrition, illness, lack of access to basic services, and destruction of homes, vital facilities, and infrastructure, as well as injury and death,” (4) reported Oxfam International just days before Brown declared Darfur the world’s principal humanitarian disaster.
Eight million Iraqis – one-third of the population – “are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter.” Seven in 10 do not have adequate access to potable water, up from 50 percent in 2003, when US and British forces invaded on fraudulent grounds. More than one-quarter of children are malnourished, up from 19 percent in 2003. (5)
It’s unclear how many people have been displaced by fighting in Darfur. The UN says 686,000. (6) Other estimates reach as high as 2.5 million. While these figures are alarming, they’re not as alarming as the figures for Iraq. Some four million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US and Britain invaded, the greatest refugee crisis in the Middle East ever, topping the Nakbah of 1948 and as great as the refugee crises of WWII Europe.
An estimated 200,000 have died in Darfur, most from malnutrition. But in Iraq, a 2006 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study estimated there had been between 426,000 and 794,000 excess civilian deaths since the start of the invasion in 2003. (7) Considering there were 150,000 civilian deaths as a result of the Gulf War, 1.5 million deaths as a result of 13 years of sanctions, and somewhere in the order of 650,000 deaths as a result of the latest Anglo-American war on Iraq, the total death toll reaches as high as 2.3 million.
The US and Britain are the authors of this unacknowledged disaster – a disaster on a greater scale than the one that bedevils Darfur. Who, but the truly naïve, would believe a UN Security Council dominated by the US and Britain can solve – or indeed, is even genuinely interested in solving — the crisis in Darfur?
(1) New York Times, August 1, 2007.
(2) John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, Washington Post, May 12, 2007.
(3) Cited in Nativdad Carrera, “U.S. imperialists increase efforts to recolonize Sudan,” Party for Socialism and Liberation, November 3, 2006.
(4) The Washington Post, July 31, 2007.
(5) The Independent, July 30, 2007.
(6) Guardian, June 23, 2007.
(7) New York Times, October 11, 2006.