While U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration was making his initial tour of a displaced camp in Darfur this last weekend, he told reporters, "We have to increase the capacity and number of aid agencies that are able to move aid assistance from the warehouses to the distribution points and then to the hands and mouths of the people in these camps." Gration also hoped that the vast gap in relief capacity created by Sudan's capricious decision to expel thirteen international relief organizations could be filled by agencies from both Arab states and the West. He also noted the importance of building up local capacity. According to Reuters, he stated, "I don't think that the prospects for returning the 13 NGOs ...are very strong or very high."
There is obviously a lot to be concerned about in these remarks. We certainly hope that these statements were just poorly constructed or delivered, and that the new special envoy and the president to which he reports are not contemplating already giving up on the idea of getting the 13 relief organizations back on the ground where they belong. (To his credit, Gration did call for their return while he was in Khartoum.) The 'Sudanization' of aid efforts, and all the greater government control that implies, would be a recipe for more suffering and a slow steady squeeze of the people of Darfur by the government. Sudan's earlier North-South war made clear that Khartoum is more than willing to strangle relief supplies as a weapon of war, resulting in tremendous human suffering.
Recent commitments by member states of the Arab League to increase their spending on humanitarian relief were entirely rhetorical, and Arab League officials acknowledge that there is no mechanism for tracking the delivery of such commitments -- meaning that few of them will ever come to fruition.
As we previously noted here at Enough Said, we think a quiet approach by the Obama administration makes real sense if it is backed by genuine leverage and sustained pressure. The clock continues to tick in the camps, and the need for genuine leadership from the White House has never been greater.