In Darfur, the Relief Effort Kills

A largely overlooked article in yesterday's New York Times points to a study that shows that 80 percent of the deaths surrounding the the crisis in Darfur came not from the conflict and the actions of the janjaweed but from the very fact that refugees were gathered in huge unsanitary camps.  They died from disease, not violence.  They died from malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea. This is what happenens when when people who are accustomed to living in remote environments in small groups are pressed together in city-sized refugee camps.

Darfur Refugees

People who come from small villages, gathered in massive unsanitary camps

What the Times article does not address is the reason the refugee camps exist in the first place.  They are not natural gatherings of the victims of violence; rather they are people who clustered together at at points where relief agencies have put food and supplies.  Ultimately. when the NGOs talk about the horrors of Darfur, they are talking about horrors they helped enable. Refugee camps, are set up for the convenience of the relief effort, and clearly not for the benefit of the refugees.

I saw this and wrote about it in Kenya in the 1970s, Somalia in the 1980s. In Cambodia, Ethiopa, Goma (Zaire) the pattern was repeated. People who gathered and died in Refugee camps might have stood a better chance if they'd stayed put.  80 percent!

Clearly a new model of refugee relief is needed, one that spreads refugees over a greater area.  This is, of course, makes things much more complicated and difficult for NGOs. And it wouldn't set well with host countries, who prefer to keep the "guests" from outside in what could accurately described as concentration camps. But this is clearly a case of, if the NGOs can't do this right, everyone would be better off if they didn't do it at all.

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