by Gustavo Capdevila
(IPS) GENEVA -- Everyone seems to agree on the severity of the crisis that threatens some two million people in the Sudanese region of Darfur, but governments are focusing on a response based on humanitarian aid, while human rights groups are calling for urgent protection for the civilian population.
Even in the best-case scenario, humanitarian experts estimate that more than 300,000 people will die as a result of violence and starvation.
Amnesty International, based in London, holds the Janjaweed -- militias backed by Sudan's armed forces -- responsible for the massive human rights violations suffered by hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur, a region in the country's northwest.
Human Rights Watch, another powerful non-governmental organization, headquartered in the United States, maintains that Darfur is carrying out a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" promoted by the government of Sudan against three communities located in the Darfur area.
This persecution has left some two million people, or a third of the Darfur population, in a situation of grave danger, according to the European Humanitarian Aid Office. (Sudan has a population of more than 32 million.)
As a result, between 750,000 and one million internally displaced peoples are spread throughout Sudan, and another 110,000 have crossed the border into Chad as refugees, European aid director Constanza Adinolfi told reporters here Thursday.
Officials and activists gathered in Geneva Thursday for a donors meeting on Darfur sponsored by the United Nations, United States and European Union.
Amnesty International research "confirmed again the systematic and well-organized pillaging and destruction of villages which led to the forced displacement of the rural population of Darfur," said Liz Hodgkin, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), stressed that Darfur is not seeing a mere problem of spontaneous ethnic conflict.
On the contrary, the Khartoum government is "sponsoring ethnic atrocities against African ethnic populations... in order to clean the region of the three targeted African ethnic groups."
HRW says the non-Arab African communities of the Fur, Masaalit and Zaghawa, mostly settled farmers, are the target of attacks by some 20,000 Janjaweed, militias emerging from Arab nomadic tribes whose arms and uniforms are provided by the Sudan government.
The ethnic makeup of Sudan is complex, with more than 500 groups, some of Arab descent, particularly in the north and central regions of the country. The national government is controlled by Arab Muslim sectors.
The humanitarian angle was taken up Thursday in a meeting of representatives from donor countries with international officials. They all agreed that Darfur today is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Jan Egeland, coordinator of UN emergency aid, estimated that $236 million are needed for the rest of the year to attend to the urgent needs of the communities of Darfur and the refugees in neighbouring Chad.
Those funds would be earmarked for food, medicine, housing, agriculture, potable water and sanitation, as well as for education and protection of human rights.
Egeland said there are an estimated one million internally displaced people and 150,000 who have sought refuge in Chad.
An additional 700,000 to 800,000 will be severely affected by the conflict by the end of the year, predicted the UN official.
A more sombre outlook came from the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Andrew Natsios: " Even in a best-case scenario, under optimal conditions, we could see as many as 320,000 people die. Without optimal conditions, the numbers will be far greater."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had warned the international body's Commission on Human Rights in April that the threat of genocide was brewing in Darfur, just as it had a decade earlier in Rwanda.
Egeland noted that the situation could be complicated in the coming weeks as the rainy season begins in northwest Sudan, increasing the threat of starvation and spread of disease, as well as making roads impassable.
Khartoum is creating obstacles for the efforts of international agencies and non-governmental groups to provide aid to the region, says James Morris, head of the World Food Program (WFP).
"If we are to prevent a famine occurring we need the government to lift these restrictions without delay. I am heartened to see that the government has responded in several instances to our requests. At the same time, however, it is crucial that we impress on them their obligation to do more," Morris said Thursday.
Oxfam, a Britain-based humanitarian group, is the only NGO that has received authorisation to work in the area, according to the WFP executive director.
The government must also "improve the security environment in the region to allow unimpeded humanitarian operations, and create the environment of security necessary for people to return to their homes."
"In particular, this means that the government must work harder to control and disarm the Janjaweed militia groups in order to stop the violence," said Morris in a statement.
At the meeting of donor countries and international agencies, Natsios announced that the United States is pledging $188.5 million for humanitarian efforts in Darfur.
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