The Dead Walk
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
New York Times Op-Ed
October 16, 2004
ALONG THE CHAD-SUDAN BORDER — In
June I wrote several columns about Magboula Muhammad Khattar,
a young Sudanese woman whose parents and husband had been murdered
in Darfur and who had escaped by night to the Chad border.
She was living under a tree there. One
of her sons was then so sick, probably from contaminated water
- 20,000 people were living out in the open without a single toilet
- that he seemed likely to die.
On returning this month, I searched again
for Ms. Khattar.
Now, each time I write about the genocide
in Darfur, I hear from readers who say something like: "It's
terrible to hear the stories, but face reality - Africans are
always slaughtering each other." Or: "It's none of our
business, and anyway we don't have extra troops to send."
Or: "There's nothing we can do."
If that were true, then Ms. Khattar would
now be dead.
So would the woman I'd met huddled under
the very next tree, Zahra Abdel Karim, whose husband and two young
sons had been slaughtered by the Janjaweed militia. She had been
gang-raped along with her two sisters, who were then killed. Ms.
Zahra was slashed with a sword and left to hobble away, naked
and bleeding - but determined to survive so she could stagger
across the desert to Chad and save her remaining child.
Yet I just had a wonderful reunion here
with Ms. Khattar and Ms. Zahra, who are now fast friends. They
and the other 200,000 Darfur refugees in Chad are living in camps,
with tents for shelter, purified water, medical care and food
distributions. Even within Darfur itself, the United Nations World
Food Program managed to get food to 1.3 million people last month
out of the 2 million who need it.
"It's much better here now,"
Ms. Khattar told me, flashing a beautiful smile as her son - now
recovered - played with other children a few feet away.
I also tracked down two lovely orphans,
Nijah and Nibraz Ahmed, 1 and 4 years old, whom I had met in June
after their parents were both killed by the Janjaweed. Their grandmother
sneaked back into Darfur two weeks ago to try to find their older
brother, so their widowed aunt is caring for them. Her situation
has improved enough that she fed me a home-cooked breakfast on
the ground outside her tent.
The improvement for the refugees in Chad
underscores how easy it is to save lives in a situation like this.
Just a dollop of international attention led Sudan to rein in
the Janjaweed to some degree, and to provide more humanitarian
access. An international aid effort, overseen by the U.N., is
saving countless lives by spending as much in a year as we spend
in Iraq in a few days.
I wish President Bush had done more to
help Darfur. But he has done more than just about any other leader,
and his legacy will be hundreds of thousands of lives saved in
Darfur - but also tens of thousands of deaths that could have
been averted if he had acted earlier.
Dr. David Nabarro of the World Health Organization
estimates that within Darfur itself, 70,000 people have perished
since March 1 of hunger and illness. Add the deaths from violence,
the deaths of refugees in Chad and the deaths before March 1,
and my guess is that the Darfur genocide has claimed more than
100,000 lives so far - and the total is still rising by 5,000
to 10,000 deaths per month.
If a halfhearted effort can save hundreds
of thousands of lives - without dispatching troops, without a
visit to the region by Mr. Bush, without providing all the money
that is needed - then imagine what we could accomplish if we took
Sudan's leaders are not Taliban-style fanatics.
They are pragmatists who engaged in genocide because they thought
it was the simplest way to end unrest among tribal peoples in
Darfur. If we raise the costs of ethnic cleansing with a no-fly
zone, an arms embargo, travel restrictions on senior officials
and other targeted sanctions, then I think they can be persuaded
to negotiate seriously toward peace.
The history of genocide in the last century
is one in which well-meaning Americans were distressed as Turks
slaughtered Armenians, Nazis rounded up Jews and Gypsies, and
Serbs wiped out Bosnians - but because there were no good or easy
options, they did nothing.
Note to Mr. Bush: This time, we can still
redeem ourselves - but time is running out, at the rate of 200
lives a day.