The humanitarian organization Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has issued an urgent alarm about the desperate food crisis in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (reported May 8, 2002 by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks). In a telling sign of the terrible disaster unfolding, Action Contre la Faim has found that malnutrition rates among children in the most affected areas are as much as 100% higher than last year. In a clear challenge to a world that largely accepts the oil-driven destruction of southern Sudan, ACF declares: “We cannot then say we did not know; we cannot say there was nothing we could do.” This is the context in which we must see the very recent announcement by Talisman Energy, boasting of its huge new discovery in Block 4—also, of course, in Western Upper Nile.
Eric Reeves [May 8, 2002]
Northampton MA 01063
While Talisman Energy makes much of its very large new discovery at the Diffra West well in Block 4 of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (The Oil Daily, May 3, 2002), they say nothing of the many tens of thousands of innocent human beings who have been displaced to make possible the security for such finds. Nor do they make any mention of the rapidly growing threat of starvation among the displaced populations of the oil regions. Indeed, despite overwhelming evidence, from all credible reporting human rights and humanitarian organizations, Talisman continues to deny the reality of human displacement in Western Upper Nile.
This is utterly shameless corporate prevarication, serving only the cause of extracting more oil profits from this brutally torn region of southern Sudan. The present realities of the oil regions are made bluntly clear in the report by Action Contre la Faim (ACF):
“In April , the residents of this area received only half-rations, even though most of them are totally dependent on these distributions to meet their needs, it stated. Moreover, it said, the period of the ‘hunger gap’—traditionally difficult, coming between the year’s two harvests—was approaching, and ACF food aid distribution centres were already seeing an increasing number of people suffering from malnutrition.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [IRIN], NEWS, May 8, 2002; attached)
Massive starvation will soon occur if humanitarian aid access is not immediately granted. But the appalling reality is that the Khartoum regime is deliberately exacerbating the conditions that make such starvation ever more likely. Khartoum continues to extend its well-documented scorched-earth campaign throughout Western Upper Nile in an effort to “secure” the entire region for Talisman Energy and its Asian and European partners and co-exploiters. Human displacement on a massive scale continues to occur. Moreover, Khartoum is now insuring the death of many thousands of people in the oil regions by denying all relief flights into these areas. The UN’s World Food Program spokeswoman, Laura Melo, spoke to this reality in today’s IRIN news release:
“‘We are now reaching “the lean season” when stocks are needed much more, and this is why we’re particularly interested in getting flight access to western Upper Nile,’ said a WFP official, Laura Melo, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Melo said the main problem in reaching Unity State [Western Upper Nile] at the moment was that the government of Sudan was currently denying flight access for the whole of western Upper Nile.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [IRIN], NEWS, May 8, 2002)
The Government of Sudan—the Khartoum regime of the National Islamic Front—is denying humanitarian relief as a weapon of war, a war meant to control the oil concessions by de-populating the entire region. This war is a continuation of Khartoum’s genocidal assault on the indigenous peoples of Western Upper Nile and other regions of the south. Denying humanitarian relief also insures that there will be no witnesses for the ongoing attacks of the sort that the world glimpsed at Bieh (Western Upper Nile), when Khartoum’s helicopter gunships poured rockets and heavy machine-gun fire into thousands of women and children awaiting food aid from the UN’s World Food Program.
Bieh, too, has now been denied all humanitarian access by Khartoum, even as the atrocities reported at Bieh continue unabated elsewhere in the oil regions.
The silence of the world and the news media, the absence of concerted action by the international community, reveal all too clearly that southern Sudan has been surrendered up to Western and Asian oil interests. The direct connection between oil development and expanding human displacement and destruction is simply beyond question or good-faith dispute. It has been authoritatively reported on in excruciating detail by Amnesty International, the last three UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, Christian Aid (UK), Human Rights Watch, the Harker Report to the Canadian Foreign Ministry, the highly authoritative Gagnon/Ryle report (“Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan,” October 2001), a recent report by the Canadian ecumenical organization KAIROS, and many others. There is simply nothing left to dispute.
Nowhere in the world is multinational resource extraction more clearly and deeply complicit in such vast human suffering and destruction. But the lives being destroyed are African lives, and they continue to suffer an outrageous moral discounting. Cursed by the most extreme form of poverty—geopolitical inconsequence—the Nuers and Dinkas of the oil regions are slowly being destroyed in a relentless, genocidal assault by Khartoum. It is, as one scholar has recently put it, “genocide by attrition” (see Helen Fein, “Genocide by Attrition in Sudan,” at www.crimesofwar.org/sudan-mag/sudan-in-discuss.html).
Southern Sudan’s oil regions are the terrible obverse of the genocidal fury in Rwanda, with its almost incomprehensible speed and savagery. By contrast, the ghastly and ongoing genocidal destruction of southern Sudan has proceeded unrelentingly over almost 20 years. The world must confront its ineffectual actions over these many years, but in particular its inexcusable acquiescence during the last five years of oil-driven destruction.
Without decisive intervention, tens of thousands of innocent human beings—disproportionately women and children—will soon die. They will be killed by the military forces of Khartoum or starve to death because they are an impediment to oil development by companies like Canada’s Talisman Energy. Though this basic reality can be very partly obscured by diplomatic and ministerial disingenuousness and pious declarations, the very effort to obscure serves only to reveal more fully the horrific spectacle of human suffering and destruction.
We have heard so many times the impassioned declaration, “Never again!” But the genocidal truth of southern Sudan makes a mockery of such factitious commitment. The world well knows the nature and cause of genocide in southern Sudan—and does nothing.
“Action Contre la Faim Alarm At Malnutrition in Unity State”
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 8, 2002
The NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF) on Tuesday expressed urgent concern about an “alarming food crisis” it said was emerging in Unity (Wahdah) State, also known as western Upper Nile, in southern Sudan. The food and nutrition situation was particularly worrying in Bentiu and Rob Kona areas, it added.
Already last year, at the same time, the malnutrition rate among young children was 20 percent in these areas, and it rose to between 30 and 40 percent a few months later, according to ACF, which said it was now sounding the alarm in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
“We cannot then say we did not know; we cannot say there was nothing we could do,” the NGO stated.
No general food distribution had been undertaken by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) for the population between January and March this year, with those distributions which did take place limited to displaced people who arrived in Bentiu and Rob Kona in February and March, according to ACF.
In April, the residents of this area received only half-rations, even though most of them are totally dependent on these distributions to meet their needs, it stated. Moreover, it said, the period of the “hunger gap”—traditionally difficult, coming between the year’s two harvests—was approaching, and ACF food aid distribution centres were already seeing an increasing number of people suffering from malnutrition. [see Sudan page at http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf]
WFP told IRIN on Tuesday that the agency traditionally scaled back on food distributions from January to March, because this was the post-harvest period when people typically had access to some food resources, and the agency wanted to avoid food aid dependency as much as possible.
“We are now reaching ‘the lean season’ when stocks are needed much more, and this is why we’re particularly interested in getting flight access to western Upper Nile,” said a WFP official, Laura Melo, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Melo said the main problem in reaching Unity State at the moment was that the government of Sudan was currently denying flight access for the whole of western Upper Nile. Some or all districts in the area had been “flight-denied” by the government for months now, and the government had denied access to the whole region for the month of May for security reasons, she added.
Serious military engagements have been taking place for some months between government of Sudan forces and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in western Upper Nile, according to diverse media and humanitarian sources.
The SPLA has said the fighting began in February when the government tried to force residents and the rebel movement out of the area in order to secure it for oil production. The government denies there has been forcible displacement of civilians, and says it is involved in defending oil installations from attack.
Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan Gerhart Baum, international human rights groups and aid agencies have all voiced concern that the struggle to control oil-rich areas and revenues in southern Sudan is exacerbating the civil war.
Senior UN officials on 25 April called on all parties to the conflict in Sudan to lift all bans on humanitarian aid flights, and to grant full access to people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. “We are appealing to both sides to give us access so we can get food and non-food items to people who need it,” said Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan.
The Sudanese government has denied access to more than 40 locations since late March, which was double the usual number of denials, thereby effectively cutting off humanitarian supply lines into parts of western Upper Nile, Eastern Equatoria and Bahr al-Ghazal, according to a statement issued by the UN Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA).
Lack of humanitarian access in Sudan—affecting over one million people dependent on food aid—coincides with the end of the dry season, a time when aid agencies seek to increase their shipments of relief supplies in preparation for the rainy season, which renders many roads impassable.
“We cannot allow a repeat of the 1998 famine, when a combination of dry season fighting and denials of humanitarian access brought about massive starvation,” UN Emergency Relief Co-coordinator Kenzo Oshima said in late April. “We need access, and we need it now.” [more details at
In Bentiu and Rob Kona, there has been a steady increase in newly admitted malnourished people at ACF feeding centres in the last few months, with 251 in January, 438 in February, 623 in March and 643 in April, the NGO stated on Tuesday. By the end of April, some 1,400 moderately malnourished people were attending ACF centres, more than double the 641 beneficiaries at the end of January, it added.
In addition, the agency’s last survey (from 8 to 13 April) had revealed “alarming malnutrition rates”, ACF stated: thus, more than 20 percent of children aged under five years in Bentiu-Rob Kona were suffering from global malnutrition. “ACF fears a further deterioration in this situation in the absence or urgent and serious action,” it added.
According to the organisation, a similar situation prevailed last year, when no general food distribution had been effected between May and August, and this had led to “unacceptable rates of malnutrition” – around 30 percent of global malnutrition among children aged under five years in Bentiu and close to 40 percent in Rob Kona.
In Tuesday’s statement, ACT appealed to the international community, UN agencies, NGOs and the government of Sudan “to address the humanitarian situation and food shortage in Unity State as soon as possible.”
“Without an urgent reaction, a dramatic food crisis is foreseeable in the months to come,” it warned.