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The Trouble with Aid

Sending humanitarian aid to conflict areas is a serious challenge. In Sudan, this challenge has lasted decades. The North uses hunger as a weapon of war, blocking international aid and monitors from reaching drought-stricken regions like South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The State Department is now going to try to evade Northern restrictions and try to get humanitarian aid to parts of Sudan. Former CFR fellow Princeton Lyman is now the State Department’s special envoy to Sudan, and he told reporters this week that about 500,000 people in parts of the country could soon face famine. “That’s something that our government at the highest levels cannot let happen,” he added.

Getting aid to Sudan despite opposition from the North is just the first hurdle. Rebel groups operate in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and both the North and South provide support to fighters. Armed rebels and thugs will commandeer food aid, and make it difficult for aid to reach remote areas where civilians are in trouble. This is one of the classic problems with aid: even after overcoming the difficult process of securing donations, organizing transport, and fixing delivery, food and supplies always go to the biggest bully with the most weapons. The weak and defenseless, who need aid most, often go home with nothing.

Princeton Lyman and his colleagues are not the first diplomats to struggle with this problem, nor will they be the last. As long as Sudan’s warring tribes fight each other, and that looks to be a very long time, defenseless civilians will be the ones that suffer.

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  • Dan

    Food and water are immediate needs and can be delivered by simply dropping the packages from low flying planes into areas that the old and young, women and children will have about the same chance of finding these packages as some bullies with guns. This process has been tested and does work.. circumventing centralized distribution points that the gunmen obviously dominate.

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