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FORGOTTEN, AGAIN: DARFUR CRISIS RAGES ON

By       Message Jan Baumgartner     Permalink
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By now, most Americans know something about the ongoing crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. They may have heard a few words knocked around, from a handful of celebrities, politicians and activists who have gotten only snippets of airtime in speaking out against the atrocities in Darfur, speaking of genocide, rape and the Janjaweed. For many, these words are too much and too foreign - arms length makes things cloudier or of less importance. And, in a world of continued catastrophic events, both natural and manmade, we tend to burnout, "disaster fatigue" as it is oftentimes referred to.

Over the last three years, it is estimated that between 200,000 to 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur with as many as two to three million displaced. Their homes are gone, burnt to the ground. Families have been wiped out. Ethnic cleansing. Genocide is a difficult idea to get one's head around. As is rape, starving children and burning villages. So instead of focusing on the tragedy in Darfur in its entirety, let's take a moment to look at the immediate: hunger and malnutrition, the basic sustenance needed for survival for the millions of displaced men, women and children living in makeshift refugee camps.

In early May, the United Nations World Food Program announced that due to lack of funding, they would be forced to drastically cut its food rations in Darfur beginning that month. As quoted by James Morris, Executive Director of the WFP, "This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Haven't the people of Darfur suffered enough?"

The World Food Program reported that by the end of February, only four percent of donations needed for Sudan in 2006 had been raised. By the forced scaling back of daily food rations, this drastic cut will exacerbate the already dire concern of malnutrition and disease.

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To add insult to injury, and due in part to the seemingly failed peace agreement, the inadequate number of African Union forces in the area, and lack of U.N. peacekeepers, violence has only escalated. And, with increasing attacks on humanitarian personnel, many groups have had to suspend or cut back operations in the war-torn region.

Today, it is not uncommon to hear, "Why should I care about what is happening over there?" That there is far too much here, in our own country that needs fixing, our attention, and financial support. "We need to clean up our own backyard," I heard someone recently say. And their concerns are valid, with one exception: "over there" is our backyard and the plight and suffering of any human being, whether one starving child or a million, is everyone's business.

I don't believe there is a limit to compassion. Americans, overall, are a generous and caring people, we feel deeply for those who suffer. We know how fortunate we are and how much of the world will never have the same opportunities, the same bounty in which we thrive. And for the validation that all the world is one, that even those with far less can offer their compassion and care, one need look no further than the global outpouring of support following Hurricane Katrina. Dozens of countries both wealthy and struggling Third World pledged donations to assist in the relief and clean-up efforts, many themselves still suffering coming on the heels of their own losses from the tragic tsunami.

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People care. That is why we cannot idly stand by and watch as yet another genocide unfolds in our lifetime, watch as millions of innocent victims struggle for food, children go hungry and die. There is no excuse. And tomorrow may be too late.

If everyone gave something, anything, the change in their pockets, and today made the pledge not only to themselves but to those suffering, that they would make a difference however seemingly small, that difference will be made. Today is a very important word. It means life or death. It means hot food and clean water in a child's belly.

We all strive for happiness, good health, and peace of mind and heart. We are fierce in taking care of our families, caring for those we love. We must find sustenance, breathe the same air, take shelter from the extremes - all to survive. And at one point or another in all of our lives we will feel pain, grief, loss, perhaps even hunger and cold. So today, if we are able, let's look past the length of our arms, beyond our "own backyards" and make a difference in the life of another human being who desperately needs our help. Someone in Darfur. Someone who not so long ago, was not so very different from you or me.

For more information on how to help, go to www.savedarfur.org as well as International Crisis Group for a list of humanitarian organizations.
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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a (more...)
 

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