- draft post - work in progress -
Over the past month, there seems to be conflicting reports on the aid situation in Darfur and Chad. Mainstream media do cover news of aid deliveries as and when they occur. And aid agencies are quick to report when they have made an aid delivery. Making it all sound like everything is in hand and under control.
But then you read contrasting reports from aid workers on the ground in Sudan and Chad who say many refugees are without even the most basic aid and shelter.
The U.N. regularly issues press releases complaining that donors have paid only a fraction of money pledged. Subtle implication that aid will not reach people who face starvation because donors are unwilling to pay for aid and its delivery.
Three months ago, the U.N. held an emergency meeting in Geneva to ask donors for c.250+ million dollars for Darfur (I have the exact figures - will log them here at a later date) - recently they've increased the figure to c.350+ million dollars while complaining that "only" one half of the sum it requested has been paid to date.
Who knows if the U.N. licks a finger, sticks it in the air, tests which way the wind is blowing, thinks up a few low sounding numbers - multiplies it by ten - adds six zeros - doubles the total for good measure -- so if it squeezes a quarter or even half of that sum from a few hours of meetings in Geneva with donors, the world inside the U.N. can count on their jobs, mortgages, cars, expenses and travel accounts for another year or two ... Yes, it sounds ridiculous -- just making the point that U.N. figures are meaningless to most members of the public.
The U.N. has no problem in thinking big and talking fast when it comes to quoting numbers in thousands or millions - in terms of cash or refugees - and thinks nothing of casually moving a decimal point or adding a digit here and there - without explanation. Who are they aiming such news at, I wonder. Perhaps they think we are daft or they are too used to public inertia -- voters don't seem to question or challenge the U.N. and their sums. Not because people don't have views, but there is no easy way for their voice to be heard. Huge crises like genocide and ethnic cleansing may be too overwhelming for most folks to handle or articulate. Instead, they switch off. And don't air grievances about aid agencies and charities because they think it won't make one iota of difference, is a total waste of time and breath.
In my experience, I've found that the majority of people I've come across or read about are compassionate and caring, and would like to be of help to people who are suffering and in need. The Live Aid concert in 1985 showed how young people still care and have dreams about feeding the world ...but that was nearly 20 years ago - and long after the Beatles and Biafra.
800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda 10 years ago. What has changed since then? Has the Common Agric Policy (CAP) been scrapped? Have the debts of the world's poorest nations been cancelled? Is each country in the world paying its fair share into helping those most in need? What about China and Russia and Malaysia and other countries with oil interests in Sudan -- why do they not provide humanitarian assistance to Darfur? How come the ground in Sudan holds so many riches but two million people have been slaughtered and hundreds and thousands more are right now facing death through starvation and disease - and yet one hears not a word from the oil companies who are operating there right now.
Why are hundreds and thousands of Sudanese people facing death by starvation while the handful of men responsible for massive scale crimes against humanity are permitted to reject offers of help and call the shots on behalf of those starving. These thugs are wining and dining, flitting around in jets and helicopters, calling the shots and being treated like they are in a negotiable position. There's enough evidence to put them behind bars right now for proper questioning in front of a war crimes judge and jury. The world owes it to the two million victims of genocide in Sudan -- and to the 2.2m survivors of genocide in Darfur who are now suffering the most miserable existence on this planet.
As 60 years roll on, the U.N. seems only to excel at one thing: fundraising. Every few months it appears to appeal for a few hundred odd million dollars here and there -- and at the blink of an eye increases the figure to three hundred million dollars -- same with the refugee numbers -- no details explaining the increase. The U.N. publishes numbers starting at 500,000 that in a flash jump to 1m -- few weeks later it's 1.2m -- then 1.5 changes to 2m -- and the latest is this week 2.2m Sudanese people are in desperate need of food. Why is Khartoum not made responsible for this -- are they too poor?
Genocide in Sudan has gone on for years. Genocide in Darfur has gone on for the past 17 months. It's been under the world's spotlight for three solid months now. Intelligence agencies have had a year and a half of satellite photos and reports. The U.N. has had sixty years of experience. Aid agencies, after decades of appeals, have become part of a slick multi billion dollar business. Who measures their success or failure? Where is the accountability to the the public?
During the past week or so, there have been fresh reports about the U.N.'s refugee camps in Chad where there is one latrine per 100 families; 5,000 refugees, desperately waiting for tents and food rations, were denied aid for several weeks because they had not been registered. Apparently, the registration process at camps is too bureaucratic and grindingly slow. One camp overflowed with 11,000 "unexpected" refugees. These are just a few examples.
When members of the public see nine-digit-sums of cash gobbled up by faceless administrators in swanky 9-5 bureaucrat land - it's no wonder they do not feel eager to help or donate hard earned taxed cash. What difference would their effort and contribution make anyway? Experience over the past 20 years seems to have taught them that the answer is: zilch. I've heard people say "Africa and such places have always had wars and famine. It's a way of life for them. Countries who receive aid don't ever say thanks for caring -- and usually end up resenting it anyway and treating it with contempt and disdain."
After years of Sudan's government raking in the aid and development funding where are their words of appreciation or thanks? What do they think of us in the Western world while they rake in billions in oil revenues, jet all over the world, hobnobbing with all and sundry -- going off on spending sprees to Moscow and China for new stuff like 12 new MiGs?
How do they think we in the Western world view their contempt of us? What do they do to help others less fortunate than themselves? How come they expect to go to market and get the same fair deals as everyone else in the world when they refuse to stop behaving worse than animals? What makes them tick? They cannot have it all their own way. No-one can. Either they are sorted out or no-one -- including China, India and Malaysia -- should be allowed to buy oil from Sudan. If it means throwing all of them off the UN Security Council - or whatever it takes to sort this horrific crime against humanity out - so be it. Boycott them. Cut off their pipes. The citizens of the world do not want blood for oil.
These countries - and the aid agencies - must think the public are daft. What are all these rackets going on? Who is all on the gravy train? Donors to the U.N. are accountable for public funds - maybe there's a good reason why they only pay up in dribs and drabs. The U.N. is a bottomless bucket. Is it good value money? Going by what has happened in Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere -- I think not. It needs some serious attention and overhauling.
Note the U.N. and aid agency personnel jet here there and everywhere to meetings and discussions (and hotels and expense accounts) that results in the creation of more words and distribution of zillion more bits of useless paper -- but they don't squander any of the donors' money on things like surplus tents and latrines.
I've logged here - in an earlier post - how the UN refugee agency shockingly failed to plan for another camp in Chad in readiness for the Darfuris.
Obviously, it goes without saying, there are good aid workers and great work being done -- but that does not account for or make up for the massive shortcomings.
A few weeks ago, there was an under reported story where refugees in one camp got so angry and upset - it caused a near riot - they threw stones at U.N. aid workers (who walked out for a few days) after they unveiled plans to plant trees around the camp. The insensitive project signalled to the refugees that they weren't going home soon and were trapped in the camp for the long haul. Quite understandable. I'd get up in the air too if I saw well fed aid workers planning to plant trees when there are hundreds and thousands facing starvation and disease through lack of the most basic aid. Seems tribal leaders had to sort out the fracas - two refugees were shot dead. It must have been awful. But we did not see much of that story in UN reports.
Back in April and May the U.N. aid agencies admitted too little had been done too late. Not because they were being honest. But because they got caught out and put on the spot. It took them by surprise to find Darfur getting in the limelight so fast. I truly believe the Internet, websites, online petitions, emailing and weblogging technology that is in our hands today played a big part in this. Which is why it took all those involved with Sudan - including Khartoum - so by surprise.
The effort the U.N. and aid agencies are putting in now is reactive - it's crisis management. And because the U.N. refugee agency and WFP is still getting it badly wrong, their plans - and finances - go pear shaped before the planes even unload the aid at their destination.
Bet the refugees can't believe their eyes when they see costly and fancy medical supplies, trucks, helicopters, planes, politicians, observers, reporters, cameras, sat phones and stuff arriving - but no sign of real news or help. A sea of refugees facing the extreme elements huddled under flimsy plastic sheets propped up by twigs. The huts they built in their villages back home were sturdy neat looking abodes to shelter from the sun, sand storms and rain. They must wonder at what the future holds. We don't get enough news from these camps. How do they spend their days? Are the children getting educated? Are they learning to speak English? Do they get enough water? How do they receive their rations? Do they have to wait all day in line or what? Why is there so much lack of good reporting -- it makes me wonder what the aid agencies -- and U.N. have to hide. Why are they not making public how they are spending taxpayers cash? I'd like to see an independent reporter do a report on all of the refugee camps -- and the whole business of the aid agencies -- out in places like Chad and Darfur.
Recently, WFP started its first deliveries with supplies they intended would last six months. What took them so long? Whatever they are delivering these past few weeks is swallowed up right away because they've taken too long and under estimated the number of refugees. They trumpet news of deliveries of food for one million people in July. But U.N. reports say there are 2.2 million people in need of basic food and aid -- and tens of thousands are in areas where aid has never been delivered. Chief of MSF recently says the aid effort needs to be doubled. How come he knows that but the U.N. and WFP don't?
So, given that WFP admit they have delivered food for one million people and the U.N. says there are 2.2m people in need - that means they are a 50% success - and a 50% failure.
So, by their own admission, bottom line is WFP has 800,000+ milliion dollars pouring into its coffers -- but it's only reaching half of those affected by the Darfur conflict. Why? Who is responsible? Is anybody asking these questions?
In the past week or so, WFP is spending its funding to pay for hugely expensive air drops in Darfur. Are the Chadian troops, Dutch and 200 French soldiers on the Chad/Darfur border being paid by WFP to airlift food? How does it work -- and why were the French all of a sudden willing to help after all these weeks and months -- when the U.N. aid workers were screaming out for helicopters to distribute aid (the French had the equipment in nearby region).
WFP used the long forecasted rains as an excuse for the air drops. Now they are using the air drops as an excuse for appealing for more funding. Why didn't WFP use those vastly expensive air drops to get basic aid to those who needed it most, weeks and months ago?
Conclusion: the U.N. World Food Programme with its 800+ million cash funding -- is a 50% failure -- is as efficient, competent and speedy as the U.N. itself - and needs serious investigation and overhaul. This blog aims to cover these issues over the coming months.
August 7, 2004, copy of BBC report
-- British aid gets to Sudan camps. Waste and animal waste start flooding all over the place -- copy in full:
One thousand latrines are being erected in a Sudanese refugee camp with the help of UK charity Oxfam. The equipment, plus water, arrived in Nyala, Darfur, on Thursday, having left Kent on Wednesday. The aid is the latest to be funded by a UK public appeal to help about 2m people displaced by war. The appeal, co-ordinated by the Disasters Relief Committee, has raised £15m of a £24m target since its launch on 20 July.
The latrines and water were sent to Kalma camp where about 60,000 refugees are living - twice the number sheltering there three weeks ago. "There is very poor sanitation at the camp. Over 60,000 people are just going to the toilet in the open," Oxfam spokesman Adrian McIntyre told BBC News Online from Sudan. "When it rains, the human waste and animal waste start flooding all over the place." He said severe diarrhoea was on the rise and there was the constant threat of typhoid and cholera. The rains also caused havoc in getting the aid to the camp.
It is only 15km from Nyala, but the trip can take an hour. "It's not a road, it's just a rutted dirt track through the desert," Mr McIntyre said. Low-lying gullies running across the road swell into rivers when it rains - "it's quite impassable, even for four-wheel drive vehicle, never mind a lorry."
Constructing the latrines involves digging a pit 3m deep with an opening 80cm by 80cm. A slab is then placed on top and a privacy shelter erected. Teams of workers from within the camp dig the pits. "They are happy to participate as they recognise the seriousness of the threat to public health," said Mr McIntyre said. "While we have engineers and health experts, it's important for the people to help. "They have often seen their families killed, abused, even raped, so to be able to participate is crucial as it is a part of their lives they can control."
Education is vital to limit and prevent outbreaks of disease, he said. The refugees are taught - by Oxfam and camp committees - about hygiene, how to collect and store water safely, and the importance of washing children's hands after going to the toilet. After a serious outbreak of watery diarrhoea and bloody diarrhoea in one camp, Oxfam realised there was contamination with the water.
While the water source itself was clean, the containers the refugees were using to collect it had become contaminated with bacteria. "In five days we cleaned and chlorinated 15,000 water cans, in a camp of 51,000 people. "Within a week the cases of severe diarrhoea had dropped by 50%," Mr McIntyre said. "So there is a direct and dramatic link between education and health." Oxfam is one of dozens of aid agencies from around the world helping in Sudan.
- - -
My question on this report is: how come after decades of experience on hygiene education in refugee camps -- the containers the refugees were using to collect water in had become contaminated with bacteria in the first place?
Why are the refugees not taught this when they register: what is the registration process all about? -- the hours of hold ups causing weeks of delays in refugees getting basic aid.
Weeks ago, when I first saw photos of refugees lining up with their piles of plastic bottles waiting for the water trucks to arrive, it struck me that the containers looked filthy and I wondered why this was so. Why the aid workers allowed the bottles be in such a state. I concluded they must boil the water before they drink it. Now I realise there's probably no way all that water gets boiled ... I am shocked. What are the aid agencies doing out there?!! Are there not enough aid workers or what? What is the problem -- are they skimping on money?
The above BBC report makes it sound like Oxfam were patting themselves on the back for cleverly identifying a problem and heroically providing a solution. Kids stuff. It really is not good enough. If our top aid agencies are not trained to deal with such elementary stuff -- what are they like with complicated problems?