Response to Darfur crisis scandalously ineffective, say MPs

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The death toll from the humanitarian disaster in the Sudan has been underestimated by the Government and could reach 400,000, a committee of MPs has warned.

The death toll from the humanitarian disaster in the Sudan has been underestimated by the Government and could reach 400,000, a committee of MPs has warned.

A report from the International Development Select Committee yesterday accused Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development - who maintains 70,000 people have died in the violence in Darfur - of misleading MPs as to the scale of the crisis.

The report also lambasted the international community for its "scandalously ineffective response" to the mass killing of the black African population of Sudan's western province by the government-backed Janjaweed militias and expressed concern that the statistics collated by the World Health Organisation were "extremely misleading".

"The figure of 70,000 deaths estimated by the World Health Organisation is perhaps the most used and certainly the most abused," the report said.

"In Sudan, Manuel da Silva, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Sudan, and in Westminster Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, both told us that the 70,000 estimated included deaths due to violence. They were mistaken.

"Of those attacked in their villages, only those who made it to the camps before dying would be included in the WHO's estimate. With the exception of these cases, the WHO's estimate does not include deaths due to the violence from which people have fled."

The committee, which visited Sudan in January, accused the international community of ignoring early warnings about the humanitarian crisis. It said "governments and politicians must not wait to act until images of death and destruction are on the TV screens. By then it is too late."

The report said that the UK government's response to the crisis in providing cash for aid was "speedy and generous".

The United Nations has described the situation in Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis and has accused the Janjaweed of "indiscriminate attacks throughout Darfur, including the killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, the destruction of villages, rape, pillaging and forced displacement," among the region's 2.4 million people.

"The world's failure to protect the people of Darfur from the atrocities committed against them by their own government is a scandal," said Tony Baldry, the committee's chairman. "Crises such as Darfur require the world to respond collectively and effectively. Passing the buck will not do.

"After the genocide in Rwanda, the world said 'never again'. The international community must now fulfil its responsibility to protect the people of Darfur. Attacked by the government which is meant to protect them, the people of Darfur, whom we have collectively and demonstrably failed, deserve no less. We demand that there is action now."

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