Despite hope of a final peace deal by the end of the year, peace in western Sudan has been elusive.
For a number of years, Darfur has been the scene of sporadic clashes between farming communities such as the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, and nomadic Arab groups.
In February 2003 the situation exploded when the central government of Sudan, in response to rebel groups seeking economic justice and a voice in government, aligned itself with fundamentalist Islamic Janjaweed militias.
Using the Sudanese air force, organized starvation, and Janjaweed to burn farmland, destroy villages, murder, and systematically rape and sexually mutilate women and girls as young as eight, they have carried out raids and burned once-fertile farmland.
The black Sudanese of Darfur are being eliminated. The Sudanese government oversees the attacks by the Janjaweed, arming and training them, often watching their attacks on unarmed villages without interceding.
The government continues to block efforts to bring food and aid to the camps by imposing frivolous regulations and requirements. Not until July 23, 2004 did the US Government finally recognize the horrific events in Darfur as genocide.
? The World Health Organization estimates that more than 10,000 people die each month in Darfur. This is the equivalent of the entire BYU student body dying in one semester;
? The number of persons who have been forced from their homes in Darfur (1.5 million) is equal to more than half the population of Utah;
? One in four children under the age of 5 is acutely malnourished, thereby at increased risk of morbidity and mortality;
? Two in five children suffer from diarrhea and related malnutrition;
? Half of the children suffer anemia, which contributes to developmental delays, disease and death;
? One in six women experience night blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency;
? One in four women suffer from an iodine deficiency, which is a risk factor in giving birth to children with mental disabilities;
? In refugee camps, there is only one latrine for every 980 people. This leads to an increased risk of infectious disease.
This is a crisis that each of us can address.
First, become educated (see www.americanprogressaction.org/sudan and www.who.int/features/darfur/en.).
Write to your local newspaper and tell the editor to continue covering the story. This may influence political leaders to act.
Write to your congressional delegates, encourage them to immediately increase humanitarian commitment to the people of Darfur, approve funding to support the African Union, a military unit which focuses on the promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent, and impose economic sanctions against the Sudanese government.
Atrocities of this magnitude cannot be tolerated. Steps need to be taken to end this genocide and heal this war-torn area.
[Dr. Neiger?s class of Master of Public Health students (class of 2006) contributed to this article.]