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We need a summit for Sudan

After the expulsion of aid agencies, the hell of Darfur will only get worse – unless the rest of the

‘‘Little short of hell on earth” is how Kofi Annan once described the situation in Darfur. Ever since the brutal, Sudanese government-led counter-insurgency began there in 2003, it has been the remarkable work of humanitarian aid agencies that has allowed the 2.7 million people displaced by the conflict some measure of hope, dignity and survival.

On 5 March, the government of Sudan expelled 13 of those aid agencies. As a result, the situation in Darfur is no longer “little short of hell on earth”: for the suffering people of Darfur, hell has well and truly arrived.

On 4 March, the International Criminal Court had announced that it was issuing an arrest warrant for President Omar el-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. Bashir reacted in an all-too-familiar way – with criminal disregard for the lives of his own civilians. Thirteen leading international aid agencies were expelled, including Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam. Between them, these agencies provide more than half of all the aid delivered in northern Sudan.

I was last in Darfur in late 2005. I still remember the desperate plea from a woman I met during a visit to a village that had just been bombed by government planes: “Please stay with us, don’t leave us,” she begged. Back then, I could not have imagined that life in Darfur could get any worse. But I fear that the 2.7 million traumatised and terrorised victims are now more isolated than ever.

The government of Sudan has inflicted the most damaging setback for delivery of aid since the conflict in Darfur began in 2003. The potential human impact of all this is unimaginable but not entirely incalculable.

We know, for example, that the expulsion of the aid agencies threatens to leave more than one million people without water, more than 1.1 million without food and 1.5 million without health care. People without water start to die after five days; children die first, and even if they do survive they remain physically and intellectually damaged for the rest of their lives.

This is happening already. At Kalma camp in south Darfur, home to roughly 90,000 people, water stopped being pumped last Wednesday, and there is no other source – clean or otherwise. As I write this and you read it, people will be dying from thirst. At Kass camp, home to 48,000 people, the main water pumps stopped working with immediate effect on 4 March. Disease will surely spread rapidly as a result, and the suffering will be compounded by the severe reduction in access to medical services.

It is no exaggeration to say that we could soon see a replay of the apocalyptic scenes of 1994, when I visited the refugee camps of Goma. Tens of thousands of Hutu refugees from Rwanda died there of cholera and diarrhoea.

The remaining agencies in Sudan simply cannot fill the gap left by the expulsions. The United Nations cannot fill the gap, either – much of the UN’s work is actually delivered on the ground by the agencies that have been expelled.

So what will more than a million desperate people do? It is likely that they will leave the camps in search of food and water. But there is no protection. Because they have no choice, there will be a large influx of refugees into local towns, which is likely to cause resentment and tension. Competition over resources such as clean water will aggravate an already shaky security situation across Darfur, which has seen renewed fighting and 50,000 people displaced in the past month. Many Darfuris may also cross the border into neighbouring Chad, one of the poorest countries in the world and already home to 250,000 refugees from Sudan. Some aid groups are already preparing for 100,000 extra arrivals, putting immense stress on their already limited capacity to help people.

The European Union has expressed grave concern about the situation and called on the Sudanese government urgently to reconsider its decision to expel the agencies. But over the years, the EU has issued countless statements of “concern” on Darfur and it continues to underestimate the intransigence of the government in Khartoum. Not surprisingly, that government draws its own conclusions about how serious the international community is about Darfur and acts accordingly.

It is vital that the EU works together with its international partners to step up diplomatic efforts to convince the Sudanese government to let the aid agencies resume their work. As a major donor to Sudan, the EU should convene an emergency summit to ensure that donors and key regional players work on getting help to those in need. Appointing a high-level humanitarian envoy to travel to Sudan, as President Obama has done, is also essential.

The African Union and the Arab League must consider whether to remain silent about actions in which innocent Darfuri people already living in squalid camps have their lifeline cut. Whatever the mood about the ICC in Africa and the Arab world, that is surely an argument that should be taken elsewhere. Is using human life as a bargaining chip in a battle with the ICC what innocent people deserve? The African Union and the Arab League must surely make it clear to Sudan that its callous actions are not acceptable.

On 16 March, Bashir announced that all foreign aid agencies will be expelled from Sudan by the end of the year. If he is testing the water, we must not dither, but be unequivocal in our condemnation. Unless the international community places urgent, concerted and serious pressure on Sudan, there is a real risk that Darfur will be closed to the world. We will not even know the extent of the humanitarian catastrophe until it is just too late.

Glenys Kinnock MEP (Wales) is Labour spokeswoman for international development in the European Parliament

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The end of American power

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State