"Here, we are comfortable," Mohammed Ismail told an Associated Press reporter Wednesday from Abu Shouk, a squalid refugee camp in northern Darfur. In Sudan, comfort is a relative term.

"We have food, we have oil."

For Mr. Ismail, who walked 125 miles to the camp, there is some comfort to be found in a monthly allotment of U.S.-provided wheat, cooking oil from Denmark and local salt.

It is better, no doubt, than being manacled and set on fire.

The United Nations has called the 19-month conflict in Darfur the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. This spiraling atrocity began when black Sudanese rebels revolted, accusing the government of neglecting the people of Darfur in favor of the country's Arabs. In response, the government empowered the Janjaweed, an Arab militia, to rape, pillage and murder the rebellion into submission.

According to aid workers, during the peak of violence last month, 1,000 people were dying each day in Darfur.

Mr. Ismail and 1.4 million other black Africans have escaped from the flaming cinders of their huts to 147 camps across Darfur, a region as large as France. And about 180,000 refugees have passed into neighboring Chad.

In July, when Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling the atrocities in Sudan "genocide" and demanding immediate recourse via international intervention, senior officials in Khartoum, the nation's capital, were so flabbergasted they turned off their cell phones for an hour to craft a response. The Sudanese government accused Republicans-in spite of the vote's widespread bipartisan support-of passing the resolution in order to woo black American voters.

Khartoum's deception extends to the present. Today marks the U.N. Security Council's deadline demanding that Sudan stop its campaign of ethnic cleansing or face diplomatic and economic sanctions. But African Union observers and the U.N.'s own envoys reported as late as Thursday that the killing continues.

The government promised to set up "safe zones"-secured areas where as many as a million displaced black Sudanese could seek refuge from the Janjaweed. The only problem is that Khartoum recruited Janjaweed members to serve as guards for these areas. And to demonstrate an official crackdown on this terribly versatile militia, officials emptied a few prison cells of petty criminals and paraded them around as militants.

The shame of such chicanery is coupled with the harsh reality that what little Sudan has done may be enough to ward off more serious international intervention.

When U.N. Resolution 1556 was approved, the explicit reference to sanctions was dropped at the urging of Russia, China, Algeria and Pakistan for a promise to "consider further action." Two of the countries responsible for watering down the Security Council's words-Russia and China-wield vetoes that could render further action by the U.N. largely ineffectual. All four of these countries have poor human rights records and, therefore, an interest in preserving state sovereignty even in cases of obvious humanitarian need. They are wary of creating a precedent that could mean reprisals for their own future misdeeds.

The continuing strife in Iraq makes mustering support and sympathy for international intervention particularly difficult. The media-it has been exactly 10 years since the genocide in Rwanda was eclipsed in daily news bulletins by a figure skater's bloodlust-has done an admirable job in exposing what is happening in Darfur with front-page features demanding compassion.

But with America's sights set squarely on the Middle East, it seems that emotion is in short supply. Here on campus, the University's affinity with Israel in many cases only narrows such tunnel vision.

Africa, in particular, has always suffered from our irresolute affection. Most Americans can avoid caring as easily as they do a Sally Struthers commercial, the kind that calls for compassion by serving up an image that has itself become a sub-genre of photojournalism-"The Suffering African."

And so, we change the channel.

That we can be repulsed by such images rather than propelled by them toward action is not something for which we should atone. But it is something to question. And it is a question that warrants pause this week, as Sudan's resolve to comply and the world's resolve to act are decided in peace conferences in Abuja, Nigeria and at U.N. headquarters in New York.

But it may be difficult to zoom out from the tumult of move-in week, cross an ocean and move over a continent we may think of as little more than the slingshot for summertime hurricanes. To move eastward and stop before we reach its horn, in Sudan, and look farther. To picture Mr. Ismail trudging down seasonal riverbeds, through red-rock mountains, over sloping gravel ridges and the Sahara Desert with his wife, two children and seven grandchildren trailing behind toward some unknown destination.