afrol.com, 14 February - The United Nations World Food Progamme (WFP) warned today that millions of Sudanese face acute hunger due to continuing civil war and worsening drought. "Families will be out of food by April or earlier," warns Mr. Masoon Hyder, WFP's Representative in the Sudan. "Our biggest fear is that if our call for food isn't answered immediately the situation could deteriorate rapidly."
Last month a joint WFP and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report confirmed that erratic rains severely affected the crop production in 2000 with serious food and water shortages emerging in a number of districts. In some areas of Sudan, this is the third consecutive poor rainy season, leaving people with no food reserves and a severe shortage of drinking water for their families and livestock.
Further exacerbating the situation, the continued conflict has prevented families from cultivating their lands and aid from arriving. Last year, the WFP and other humanitarian organisations had to leave the Sudan on several occasions due to government bombing of towns and villages in the south. A total of 152 civilian sites were bombed by the Sudanese army last year.
Now, however, most organisations are back, although their work is disturbed by ongoing government aerial bomb attacks. "We have a looming crisis on our hands," said Masoon Hyder. "The logistics and distribution systems are in place, but our food warehouses are almost empty."
Humanitarian organisations have joined forces with the WFP to respond to the crisis by stepping up food deliveries through food for work activities and school feeding programmes in the north. The Sudanese government is also involved in the nationwide cooperation, also in the areas in the south, where it has no control. Although the Sudanese government in the past has shown an indifference towards rural famines, its involvement in UN aid work all over the country was forced upon the UN last in year's negotiations.
The ever-widening drought has hit both the northern and southern parts of the country, particularly in the northern Darfur and Kordofan regions as well as Eastern Equatoria and northern Bahr el Ghazal. In the latter two areas, the drought situation has been made worse by continued fighting and bomb attacks.
In the western cattle farming areas of Kordofan and Darfur, food prices have more than doubled and families are already selling their livestock to raise cash to buy food. Grain stores are already low and cattle are fetching a pittance at market. Water points are drying up and villages have started to empty as people move in search of water and pasture for their animals.
In Eastern Equatoria as well as in parts of Bahr el Ghazal and Jonglei malnutrition is rising. Poor rains have only been sufficient for a partial re-growth of pasture and herders are moving their already weakened cattle to graze as far as 100 kilometres away. Cattle are dying en route, but more worryingly; mothers and children left behind have no access to their staple diet of milk and blood.
The WFP is urgently appealing for US$ 135 million to feed an estimated 2.9 million people in both government and rebel-held areas of the country until the end of the year. "We need food now but it can take up to three months to move food by ship to Sudan and then by road or air to the remote drought areas," said Mr. Hyder.
- We want to pre-position food stocks before the rains come in May which renders many of the roads impassable, continued Hyder. He bases his appeal on experience. In 1998, a famine hit the Bahr el Ghazal region, with malnutrition rates reaching 45 percent of the population. The WFP has been delivering hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food to nourish millions of Sudanese regularly for years. Three quarters of all food to Sudan is still delivered by air.
The 17-year civil war has resulted in continuous waves of fighting, inevitably causing new and often large-scale displacements of people. In January 1998, fighting erupted around the southern government-held towns of Wau, Aweil and Gogrial, causing the exodus of approximately 100,000 people, kick-starting the famine crisis of 1998. Both the Sudanese government and the opposing southern rebel movement SPLM/A thus granted a ceasefire until mid-2000 in the famine affected area.
Source: Based on WFP, UN and afrol archives