In most parts of the world, poverty is intertwined with underdevelopment. But the UN prefers to turn a blind eye to this fact.
When the United Nations (UN) embraced the millennium goal of fighting poverty, it surprisingly adopted the wrong technique. In the aftermath of the Darfour crisis in Sudan, the base of the conflict was seen as the marginalisation of the area in as far as development plans are concerned. The long spells of draught which have led to the scarcity of water, decline in agricultural productivity and increase in food insecurity were handled by the UN taskforce UNAMID for almost eight years now but to no avail.
The UN which spent $15 billion on UNAMID has not been able to declare victory over poverty in this part of Sudan. It is obvious that the UN prescription for the crisis in Darfour is in disarray. The UNAMID’s basic mission has been to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian aid and help the political process in Darfour. This is the slogan, or rather the agenda of the UN and its agency there, and has been a total failure on the ground.
The so-called Sudanese state of South Kordofan, situated east of Darfur and sharing its southern border with the newly-formed state of South Sudan, has become the scene of violence between the government forces and the SPLA South Kordofan sector. Several international organisations have pointed to the consequences suffered by local civilians, who have been caught in cross fire by the government in the Nuba Mountains area and the SPLA.
The last war ended in Kordofan in 2002 with the Bürgenstock Ceasefire. Large parts of the state, particularly the Nuba Mountains, remained under the control of SPLA forces led by the former deputy governor Abdelaziz Al Hilu. In the state’s elections last May, Al Hilu lost his bid for the governorship against Ahmed Harun. Al Hilu claimed the elections fraudulent and his party refused to recognise the outcome.
Recent efforts by the government troops to disarm Nuban fighters have precipitated the gunfights that began in Kadugli at the beginning of June. As fighting raged in the state capital, particularly around the residence of Al Hilu, skirmishes began to break out elsewhere as well, and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) brought heavier armaments into the contest.
Later, when the fighting broke out across nearly half of South Sudan in mid-December, at least 75,000 people fled to UN compounds, desperate for security and shelter. Four months later, as battles between the government troops and forces loyal to Rick Machar continued, the displaced are still arriving at the UN gates.
But the fear is that the refugees may have exchanged the dangers of the frontline for new risks. The start of the rainy season could bring outbreaks of disease within the congested camps, while a civilian attack on one UN compound this month left dozens of people dead and signalled that the bases cannot necessarily shield people from the fighting they moved there to escape.
Aid agencies lashed out at the UN Mission in South Sudan, accusing its leaders of not working fast enough to improve conditions in camps or build new ones.
In Darfour, corruption is also high on the agenda of the UNAMID, as stated by its former spokeswoman, Aysha Albasry, who called upon the international organisation to launch a thorough investigation into the practices of the UN workforce.
Now, people in Darfour are having to pay the heavy price of insecurity stemming from UNAMID corruption and the UN failure to fight poverty.
As long as the UN sees the crisis in Darfour as a region with security and humanitarian issues rather than an underdeveloped area, the state of the affairs there will continue to deteriorate. In most parts of the world, poverty is intertwined with underdevelopment but the UN prefers to turn a blind eye to this fact and work on the assumption that poverty is a temporary issue that could easily be solved with some aid and security. If half of the $15 billion spent by UNAMID on humanitarian aid were allocated for developing plans, many of the security issues could have been solved. But, the UN prefers to keep the poor underdeveloped to be able to offer as little as the world’s rich can afford, as a means to pave their way to heaven.
Mervat Diab is assistant chief editor of Al-Ahram newspaper.