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Sudanese ambassador: "Darfur is a classic case of climate change."

Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, Sudan's ambassador to the U.N.

Climate change, leading to desertification, is the primary cause of the conflict in Darfur, said the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad told an audience at Rauch Business Center’s Perella Auditorium on Nov. 13.

Furthermore, “the maximum number is 10,000 dead,” continued the ambassador, whose country is suspected to supply weapons and troops to militias responsible for the death toll that most experts estimate at 200,000.

Stephanie Berger ‘07, the LU/UN Partnership intern, introduced the ambassador.

“This lecture is possible because Lehigh is one of eight universities recognized as a non-government organization,” she said. This status allowed Lehigh to form a partnership with the U.N.

The sixth speaker in the LU/UN Ambassadorial Speaker series, Ambassador Mohamad defended his country to over 200 members of the Lehigh community in Perella Auditorium at 7 p.m. Many of those attending participated in earlier events at Lehigh relating to the Sudanese crisis, including a concert benefiting the victims of Darfur and a presentation by a Darfuri refugee.

“The major cause of the question of Darfur is the environmental degradation from climate change,” he said. “Darfur is a classic case of climate change. People have witnessed gradual degradation of the environment and erosion of the resources and desertification and drought that was going on for a long time, since the beginnings of the seventies.”

To support his argument, Ambassador Mohamad referred to a Washington Post editorial written in June by Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the U.N.

Desperate to feed and water their flocks, nomads living in the Darfur migrated to areas closer to villages, where their herds grazed on the crops of agricultural communities, sparking a battle over resources, especially water.

“Neither the farmer nor the nomad would have been in conflict had the climate been stable,” said the ambassador.

The conflict also arises from feelings of misuse and marginalization from many of the people in Darfur, the ambassador said. These people claim that they do not receive adequate health and educational resources and are not fairly represented in the Sudanese government.

“This is a legitimate concern,” he said, “but it is not isolated to the state of Darfur.”

U.S. is the “only country that has labeled the question as a genocide”

Although economic reasons are the primary cause of the conflict, “the war was intensified by different ethnic groups,” he said. However, the ethnic conflict is not genocide, because genocide is defined as a systematic weeding out of one race by another. This is not happening, the ambassador said.

“The United States is the only country that has labeled the question as a genocide,” the ambassador said.

When asked about Sudan’s relationship with China, the ambassador admitted that China and Sudan have strong ties, which were partly due to the deteriorating relations between Sudan and the United States.

“We had no option but to adopt a ‘look east’ policy,” he said; however his country is receptive to renewed relations with the United States. “China and America, if they wish, are welcome to get oil from Sudan.”

To end the killings, Ambassador Mohamad hopes that his government and the people of Darfur can reach a peace treaty similar to that which ended the killings in Southern Sudan in 2005. He predicted that this agreement will be achieved soon, with the help of the peacekeeping forced of the United Nations and the African Union.

“Very soon you will see another, different Darfur,” he said. “I look forward to coming here after five years and telling you about our success and celebrate our good relations with America.”

The moderator and Lehigh University representative to the United Nations, Bill Hunter responded, “We look forward to having you back to hear that.”

The ambassador also invited a group of Lehigh students to visit his country to see the situation without the “dramatization” of the media.

A year-long focus on Africa

The ambassador’s presentation followed two other events on Sudan and Darfur as part of the Global Union’s year-long effort to educate the Lehigh’s community on Africa and, specifically the Sudanese conflict.

“Over the course of the year, we have had an interest in focusing on several international topics,” says Cameron Copeland ’08, president of the Global Union.

In September, Dafuri refugee Daoud Hari told a tale of the torture and terror that he suffered at the hands of the Sudanese government to over 300 people in Sinclair Auditorium.

On Friday, Nov. 9, over 200 students attended the Rock for Darfur concert, which generated awareness and raised money for the Enough Project, an activist group seeking to promote peace in Darfur, Northern Uganda and Eastern Congo.

One of the organizers of the concert, Ahmed Salim ’08 questioned the validity of the Sudanese ambassador’s explanation of the conflict as a result of climate change.

“What about the Ethopian famine in the early 1990s?” Salim asked. “I didn’t see any ethnic cleansing.”

Olivier Lewis ’08 also doubted the veracity of ambassador’s speech.

“This type of event wouldn’t happen in Sudan,” said the French, international relations and journalism triple-major. “One of the reasons the U.N. ambassador can speak here today is because freedom of speech is valued in the United States. At the same time, I admire the profession of the ambassador. Without people in his position, there would be more conflict in this world.

“I hope anyone who came to the event will double-check all the facts he presented,” he said.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Friday, November 16, 2007

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