This issue of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Since conflict began in early 2003, an estimated 180,000–400,000 people have died as a result of violence. The crisis has been labelled ‘genocide’ by the United States, the first time that this has happened since Rwanda in 1994. Yet legal and political recognition of the extent of the suffering has not translated into a robust and effective response. UN Security Council discussions and resolutions, diplomatic activity and the threat of sanctions have yielded some significant improvements in humanitarian access.

Peacekeepers from the African Union (AU) have also been deployed. But these efforts have failed to halt the violence, or protect millions of people from the forcible displacement, rape and indiscriminate killing which have characterised the conflict. Meanwhile, attempts by the humanitarian community to fill the ‘protection gap’ through field presence and global advocacy have had only limited effect.

In this context, humanitarian agencies have been able to do little more than provide a palliative, albeit an important one. Contributors to this issue highlight some of the key obstacles agencies have faced, from insecurity and difficult logistics to government obstruction and bureaucratic delay. Agencies have also found it difficult to shift their programming from a developmental to a humanitarian mode, and to achieve sufficient scale. But this issue also reflects on some real achievements, both by the affected communities themselves and by relief workers.

Despite the huge upheavals facing them, people and communities are surviving. Rich social networks exist and are being created, and these are playing a critical role in enabling people to protect their assets and obtain life-saving services.

However, as so often, the voice of the people affected by violence is being lost. Their capacity to influence the shape of humanitarian action remains very limited. This makes Jan Egeland’s contribution, on accountability, particularly timely. Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, writes on this issue at a global level. In relation to Sudan, other articles raise this question with regard to the warring parties, NGOs and third-party governments. An account of the British parliamentary International Development Committee’s work on Darfur describes its role in ensuring an accountable international humanitarian system.

Alongside these provocative and informative pieces on Darfur, this issue offers a typically rich array of more general articles. These range from an analysis of the financial effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami to current issues in humanitarian security, psychosocial planning and agricultural rehabilitation. As ever, your feedback and views on all the pieces contained here, as well as ideas for further issues, would be welcomed.

Issue 30 articles