Collateral Damage

Barrel bombs go off all around me with shuddering explosions that shake my body. Face in the sand, body prostrate, I wait until the air is silent. Shuffling to my feet, I stand, quickly assessing my surroundings and breathing a sigh of relief. No injuries and no direct hits. The bombs were intended to hit a refurbished primary health care unit, but barrel bombs are not known for their accuracy.

I walk around looking at the damage and waiting for help to come. But no one rushes in to help this village. No news briefs rage in disbelief. I am the only Westerner to witness the bombing—a daily reality for this Sudanese community.

This is unjust war.

We can debate the Just War theory or proclaim that no war is ever just. But I’m not interested in those debates. We will always have wars (Matthew 24:6) and we will always have debates. The question is not which war is just and which is unjust, the question is: “What will I do for those who find themselves sick, hurt, hungry, thirsty and weak due to war?”

At the beginning of the 20th century, the ratio of military-to-civilian, conflict-related deaths was nine to one. For every nine military deaths, one civilian died. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, that ratio is the exact opposite. Today, for every one military death, nine civilians die.
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Here is how that plays out on the ground in just one country—the DR Congo: Since 1998, 5.4 million people have died from war-related hunger and disease. Fast-forward to 2007, a reported 45,000 people die every month, the majority women, children, elderly or disabled. Due to war, they lack clean water. They lack healthcare. The women are raped. Children are abducted and forced to become soldiers. And yet, these atrocities go largely unnoticed by the media and the public. Consider that for every $1 that went to the tsunami crisis, $0.01 went to alleviate suffering in the DR Congo.

Beyond statistics are the names and stories of those affected by unjust war. Meet Nyanyal Loo and her children. In the beginning of 2007, during the hunger season, I met Nyanyal. The hunger season is the period after harvest, during the start of the rainy season when crops have not yet been planted. Nyanyal knew that her children were close to death. They were starving and sick. Nyanyal’s husband was fighting in the war. She had no idea where he was or if he was even alive. Nyanyal knew her children needed food and medicine. Having heard of a primary healthcare unit and a therapeutic feeding program “close” by, she set off with her four children for a three-day walk to Medair’s project. By the time she arrived, one child was dead and two were close to death. After a few days of fighting for life, another child, Widat, died. Her two remaining children, Ramadan and Nyasunday, were left. Nyasunday was going to recover, but Ramadan was weak. The Medair team gave Ramadan around-the-clock care and carefully nursed him until he was strong enough to eat and drink. Months later, after Ramadan recovered, Nyanyal made the same trek home. This time, with just two children.

What is unjust war? Ask Nyanyal. She can explain it better than anyone.

Our responsibility in the West is to recognize that in these conflicts, women and children are the most vulnerable. We must speak for the voiceless, provide water for the thirsty, feed the hungry and stand for those too weak to stand for themselves.

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