NEW AL-JEER SUREAF, Sudan -- The Bush administration has called it genocide. Other governments have labeled it ethnic cleansing and the world's worst humanitarian crisis. There have been calls for collective action and promises of relief. There have been somber reminders of the slaughter in tiny Rwanda a decade ago and solemn vows not to let such a thing happen here, in Africa's largest country.
But months later, the displaced inhabitants of Darfur, in western Sudan, find themselves consoled by little more than words. No Western country has been willing to commit troops to a small peacekeeping mission mounted by the African Union, while aid donors have been distracted by the conflict in Iraq, and U.N. sanctions have been frozen by diplomatic disputes.
Bukadi Bash, 13, lies ill with malaria at the Sureaf camp, South Darfur. The African residents are being moved to another camp, closer to Arab-held land, a move many say they fear.
(Photos Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
A Continuing Crisis: Saida Koomis Idris, 16, is treated by nurse Hasanea Ahmed for wounds she received when Sudanese policemen moved internally displaced people to a new camp.
_____Crisis in Sudan_____
Q&A: Darfur A brief explanation of the issues and current humanitarian situation in Western Sudan.
Photos: Sudan's Rebels
U.S. Urges Aid to Spur Peace in Sudan (The Washington Post, Nov 15, 2004)
Sudanese Fearful Following Relocation (The Washington Post, Nov 13, 2004)
After Accord, Sudan Camp Raided (The Washington Post, Nov 11, 2004)
Sudan, Rebels Reach Accord On Darfur (The Washington Post, Nov 10, 2004)
Sudanese Rape Victims Find Justice Blind to Plight (The Washington Post, Nov 8, 2004)
The depth of the crisis can be felt in this steamy, desolate camp for the displaced, where Fatina Abdullah's family is still on the run from marauding Arab militiamen. She fled her village weeks ago, and her current home is under a wooden cart. Her son Bakheit, 8, is weak from diarrhea, anemia and a chest infection, afflictions that have killed dozens of children here.
"No one cares," said Abdullah, 45, burying her face in work-scarred hands. The ailing boy lay by her side, gasping for air and perspiring heavily. "No one is protecting us."
Since Sept. 9, when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared that the events in Darfur constituted genocide, U.N. officials estimate that the death toll has nearly doubled, to 70,000, in a region where African rebels have been battling government troops and Arab militiamen known as the Janjaweed for the past 20 months.
Violence and crime are surging, with almost daily reports of assaults against aid workers and civilians, while squalid tent cities continue to swell. More than 1.4 million people have fled their farms and villages.
In a recent agreement with rebel forces, the government agreed to establish a no-fly zone and the fighters promised to allow food convoys to reach thousands of displaced families. But U.N. officials said both sides had repeatedly violated a long-standing cease-fire, and some fear the new agreement may also collapse.
Meanwhile Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, has warned that Darfur "may easily enter a state of anarchy." Pronk said there were "strong indications" that war crimes had occurred "on a large and systematic scale."
In addition, according to U.N. officials, almost half the families in Darfur still do not have enough to eat, and 200,000 people are unable to receive food rations because of armed attacks on convoy routes. In one turbulent area called Zalengi, some 160,000 civilians have been cut off from food aid since Sept. 25 because roads are blocked.
"We need a political solution quickly here," said Bettina Luscher, a public affairs officer with the World Food Program. "Things are getting far worse and more complicated by the day. We are really concerned about how we will feed these people by the end of the year."
The continuing international reluctance to address the Darfur crisis has led critics -- including diplomats and former peacekeeping officials -- to complain that the United States and other powers have cynically substituted dramatic rhetoric for meaningful actions. One such critic is Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who led the stymied U.N. peacekeeping mission during the 1994 Rwanda massacres.
"The use of the word 'genocide' was nothing more than the U.S. playing politics with a term that should be sacrosanct," said Dallaire, who argues that the American government should back up its words with deeds, in part by "putting a lot more pressure" behind efforts to bolster the African Union mission.
Charles R. Snyder, the State Department's senior representative on Sudan, defended the U.S. role in Darfur, saying the Bush administration took the lead when no other country was willing to do so and has been the largest donor of aid.
"The word 'genocide' was not an action word; it was a responsibility word," Snyder said in a telephone interview. "There was an ethical and moral obligation, and saying it underscored how seriously we took this. . . . If I didn't believe the U.S. was doing enough, I would resign."