February 10, 2009 / 1:26 PM / 11 years ago

U.N., world ignore development in Darfur-UN adviser

(Corrects source’s name in 2nd paragraph to Jeffrey from Jeffry)

By Alaa Shahine

CAIRO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The U.N. and world powers are not tackling the root causes of the Darfur crisis such as water scarcity and lack of development, a U.N. adviser said.

"The diplomats and the military strategists and the political strategists want to approach it from a strategic point of view, from a peacekeeping point of view, from a geopolitical point of view ... whatever it is but not from a water and development point of view," Jeffrey Sachs said.

Sachs, an adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body needs to refocus its efforts.

"The right approach is to start from a position that Darfur is one of the most impoverished places on the whole planet. It’s one of the most ecologically and economically stressed parts on the whole planet," he told a packed hall at the American University in Cairo on Monday evening.

International experts estimate 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since the conflict flared in 2003 when mostly African rebels revolted against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, charging it with neglect.

Darfur is the site of the world’s biggest humanitarian operation, with the presence of many aid agencies including the U.N. Most of the work is geared to provide basic aid to millions caught in the conflict rather than long-term development.

Aid agencies came under regular attacks from bandits and combatants as the crisis turned into a free-for-all conflict, with tribes, rebels, bandits and government forces vying for everything from cattle to political power.

Analysts say the eruption of fighting in 2003 was in part the culmination of decades of economic and social neglect by the British occupation and successive Sudanese governments, along with regional conflicts that spilled into the vast, remote area.


"Nomads from the north of Darfur moved south to find water. What they found was sedentary population and they tried to ethnically cleanse them, so that they can grab the water," Sachs said. "This is a one-sentenced, perhaps dramatically over-simplified (explanation) but it is not wrong".

Sachs, who is also the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, said he was once summoned to the U.N. for an urgent meeting to discuss the water in Darfur.

He said the meeting turned out to focus only on how to find enough water for 26,000 peacekeepers the world body was preparing to station in the region.

"I said three times during the meeting that’s 26,000 people, and there are 7 million people in Darfur, and that probably gives you an idea about the water problem. I could not be heard. The problem was a practical one". Sachs said cutting wasteful spending on military operations and what he described as excessive corporate bonuses would help the world mobilise enough funds to tackle poverty and ensure comprehensive access to primary healthcare and safe water.

He said the American public still sees power, rather than development and aid, as the best way to settle world problems.

"If we would just look and listen, we’d understand that these are hungry people. And you can send all the armies in the world but you are not going to get one more drop of water that way." (Editing by Matthew Jones)

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