Western Journalism and Sudan: a painful deficit, with growing consequences
Dr. Eric Reeves, Sudan Tribune
20 October 2015
Image: Life as a displaced person with nowhere to go (photograph by Human Rights Watch)
News organizations rarely worry about balancing their reporting on humanitarian crises around the world; on the contrary, there are gross imbalances driven by the spectacular (natural disasters), proximity to Western countries and Japan, inertia (what has been reported will be reported), and any association with terrorism or military actions.
The various humanitarian crises within and around Syria have been the beneficiary of all these determinants, at least in news coverage. And the exploding refugee crisis created by events in Syria has brought events literally into the homes of Europeans, ensuring continuing intense news coverage of events from Iraq to Germany.
But these habits of Western journalism ensure that some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises remain largely invisible. Nowhere is this truer than in Sudan. To be sure, there has been some serious reporting on South Sudan: devastating food shortages, massive civilian displacement, and terrible ethnic fighting in the world’s newest nation (South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011). But with the exception of reporting by Sudanese news organizations such as Sudan Tribune and Radio Dabanga—both publishing electronically in exile—we hear virtually nothing about affected civilians in Sudan, and the brutality of the Khartoum regime that rules Sudan. But regime policies have generated staggering numbers of displaced persons and refugees, pervasive and dangerous malnutrition rates, a disintegrating medical system, and ethnically-targeted destruction in Darfur that amounts to genocide.
And it is not simply Darfur: virtually all of Sudan that suffers; only the riverine elite in Khartoum and its environs, and the regime’s hand-picked cronies, have managed to insulate themselves from these disasters, which threaten to become a tidal wave of catastrophe as the Sudanese economy continues to implode—a phenomenon repeatedly described by Sudanese economists (mainly in exile), but never by Western news organizations.
What might a global overview of Sudan look like?
The European Commission very recently estimated that “some 6.6 million people are reliant on some form of humanitarian assistance in Sudan.” Figures from a leaked UNICEF report on malnutrition offer detailed insight into humanitarian needs. Noting that “acute malnutrition rates for children in Sudan are among the highest in the world,” the report provides figures for Acute Malnutrition in various regions of Darfur (a ten percent Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate for children is generally considered an emergency in conflict regions). North Darfur, 28 percent GAM or almost three times the emergency threshold; South Darfur, 18 percent, almost twice the emergency threshold; South Darfur, 13 percent; East Darfur, 15 percent. Red Sea, Kassala, and Blue Nile states all have child GAM rates above 15 percent. Severe and Chronic Malnutrition rates are equally disturbing.
Displacement is extraordinarily high and in Darfur alone more than 2.5 million civilians are internally displaced, typically living in camps that are increasingly subject to shortages, an absence of relief organizations, and victimized by violent assaults from Khartoum’s current militia of choice, the Rapid Response Forces. An additional 370,000 Darfuris are refugees in eastern Chad—dramatically under-served, but afraid to return because of rampant insecurity that has seen Arab militia groups violently seize countless tracts of land from African farmers. Shortages in the camps are desperate: clean water, food, primary medical care—and above all, security. Tens of thousands of girls and women have been sexually assaulted in and around the camps over the past twelve years; rape remains a primary weapon in Khartoum’s counter-insurgency strategy.
Large parts of Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states suffer under a humanitarian embargo imposed by Khartoum. These are areas controlled by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, remnants of forces from these areas that fought in Sudan’s long civil war (1983 – 2005). By denying humanitarian access, Khartoum keeps the world from knowing just how bad conditions are, but in its recent report the European Commission estimates that “conflict in both Blue Nile and South Kordofan states has affected over 1.1 million people, resulting in an increasing number of Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia and South Sudan, as well as nearly 380,000 internally displaced persons.” An update from a reliable indigenous reporting service has as its headline: “Food security crisis in Blue Nile: 30,000 people at risk of a localised famine.” There will be many more such headlines without robust international response.
All this is known to EU countries, as well as to the U.S. and other wealthy nations. And yet funding for humanitarian operations in Sudan for 2015 has only just reached the 50 percent mark, leaving half the relief operations unfunded. The UN’s World Food Program has already indicated that it will provide no food assistance for the 370,000 Darfuri refugees in barren eastern Chad next year.
The root cause of all this suffering and acute need is the brutally rapacious Khartoum regime, and until removed from power by the people of Sudan, present conditions will only worsen. The regime is no better than Assad’s and in many ways worse. The humanitarian consequences of their twenty-six years of tyranny need much greater news exposure.
Eric Reeves is one of the authors of the Sudan Community Compensation Proposal (http://sudancommunitycompensation.org/), designed to use, for humanitarian purposes in Sudan, a portion of $9 billion from the 2014 settlement by BNP Paribas (France) resulting from charges brought by the Department of Justice for financial crimes benefiting the Khartoum regime
Copyright 2015 Sudan Tribune
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