The difficulty of securing a commitment from the Khartoum regime to engage in good faith peace negotiations to end Sudan’s civil war can be gauged from the shocking headline of a UN World Food Program press release. Dated this afternoon (April 5, 2002), the release from the World Food Program (WFP) declares, “Sudanese Government denies humanitarian access to 1.7 million people in Sudan.” Though the WFP “strongly condemns” the decision by the Khartoum regime, there is little it can do without additional pressure from the international community. The same is true in bringing Khartoum to engage in good faith negotiations for a just peace. Tragically, oil interests and a lust for Khartoum’s petrodollars are blinding Canada, Europe, and Asia to the immense suffering directly related to oil extraction.
Eric Reeves [April 5, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The World Food Program statement (attached below) presents the international community with a shocking figure: 1.7 million human beings are now being denied humanitarian relief because Khartoum has doubled the number of flight bans imposed on aid agencies struggling to avert complete catastrophe in southern Sudan.
A close look at where the additional flight bans are concentrated reveals yet again the role of oil in Sudan’s agony: there are many, many locations that are denied relief simply because they are inconveniently close to scorched-earth operations by Khartoum’s forces. It is no accident that Bieh—site of Khartoum’s helicopter-gunship massacre of civilians in February 2002—is one of the sites denied humanitarian access. These operations are a savage attempt to “secure” oil concessions for companies like Talisman Energy of Canada, Lundin Petroleum of Sweden, OMV of Austria, Petronas of Malaysia, and China National Petroleum Corp.
What happens when the Khartoum wages war by means of denying humanitarian aid assistance to people in southern Sudan’s oil regions and other vulnerable areas? In the words of Judith Lewis, WFP’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa:
“These flight bans can have a devastating impact on entire populations. Extremely debilitated people will be virtually cut off from basic assistance such as food and health care.”
The terrible ripple effects of these brutal humanitarian aid denials are also articulated all too compellingly in the WFP press release:
“Most of the 43 locations to where flights have been denied are located in areas where the populations are extremely vulnerable due to insecurity and drought. These people rely heavily on relief assistance, and the latest flight denial will result in further displacement of thousands of people. Populations in need will be forced to move towards a dwindling number of areas where they can be assisted.”
The WFP release also details the various other, less direct but highly effective obstacles to humanitarian relief that Khartoum has put in place. Unworkable flight requirements, gratuitous bureaucratic demands, and other means of harassment are used to deny the delivery of desperately needed food and medicine.
This is Khartoum’s weapon of mass destruction.
1.7 million human beings put deliberately at risk by a brutal regime seeking to acquire the oil revenues that will allow it to prevail militarily in its war on the people of the south and other marginalized areas. If a peace process is to have a chance for Sudan, if Khartoum is ever to be forced to negotiate a just peace, the international community must not avert its eyes from this barbarism. It must forgo oil revenues and commercial projects funded by petrodollars until there is serious engagement on the part of Khartoum.
It is essential to have a peace process, for peace will never emerge from the diplomatic lethargy that presently prevails. But a peace process requires a party willing to negotiate. Khartoum’s unspeakably cruel denial of humanitarian aid to desperate people as a means of prosecuting a savage war makes clear just how much pressure must still be brought to bear on this tyrannical regime.
“Sudanese Government denies humanitarian access to 1.7 million people in Sudan”
Date: Fri, 5 Apr 2002 20:23:34 +0300
World Food Programme (WFP)
April 5, 2002
Nairobi – The UN World Food Programme today strongly condemned the decision by the Government of Sudan to deny access of WFP flights to 43 locations in southern Sudan, which will prevent about 1.7 million people from receiving humanitarian assistance.
A number of the locations affected by the flight denial, such as Akuem and Marial Bai, in Bahr el Ghazal, are crucial to reach some of the most
vulnerable populations frequently displaced by insecurity. The decision has, however, serious repercussions on the entire population in Upper Nile, northern Bahr el Ghazal and Lakes region.
As part of the agreement under which Operation Lifeline Sudan operates, flight requests are submitted to the Government of Sudan and to the SPLM/A each month. On average, the Sudanese authorities deny access to 25 locations. However, this is the second month in a row that the Government of Sudan doubled the number of denied locations.
“These flight bans can have a devastating impact on entire populations,”
said Judith Lewis, WFP’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. “Extremely debilitated people will be virtually cut off from basic
assistance such as food and health care.”
Most of the 43 locations to where flights have been denied are located in areas where the populations are extremely vulnerable due to insecurity and drought. These people rely heavily on relief assistance, and the latest flight denial will result in further displacement of thousands of people. Populations in need will be forced to move towards a dwindling number of areas where they can be assisted.
The search for alternative ways to provide aid will also have an enormous financial impact on relief agencies. Taking relief assistance to alternative locations by air and the consequent creation of alternative infrastructures for the provision of aid greatly increases the costs involved. However, even alternative locations are subject to approval and possible delays.
“Most agencies already struggle to find the necessary funds to maintain
their humanitarian activities in southern Sudan,” said Lewis. “The resources required for alternative systems would be much better spent on humanitarian programmes.”
Of the 1.7 million people affected by the flight denial imposed by the
Sudanese Government, 470,000 depend on food assistance provided by the WFP. Due to insecurity, WFP teams are deployed in villages for short periods of time to co-ordinate and monitor the distribution of food, in what are known as “hit and run” operations. The imposition of the flight bans makes such operations impossible leaving some of the most vulnerable people in southern Sudan without food assistance, and compromising their very survival.
“This is a violation of the humanitarian principles and the tripartite
agreement under which OLS was created in 1989, a commitment subscribed to by the Government of Sudan,” said Lewis. “Our protests follow failed attempts since the beginning of the week to negotiate with the Government of Sudan to reverse their decision.”
Since the announcement of this decision, on 1 April, the WFP has been
involved in a series of meetings with the Government of Sudan for the
conditions and restrictions imposed to be lifted. Limited progresses were
achieved, but not enough to allow WFP to continue with its operations
The Sudanese Government is also demanding all WFP flights that enter
Sudanese airspace to contact air control tower in Juba Town, an obligation virtually impossible to comply with. Aircraft enter Sudanese territory at approximately 150 nautical miles from Juba, too far to establish VHF radio contact with Juba. The Government of Sudan is aware that Juba tower can only be reached at approximately 50 nautical miles from Juba. Moreover, the tower is frequently unstaffed.
Apart from flight denials, the Government of Sudan has imposed bureaucratic obstacles on operations by demanding maps and coordinates of the locations to which relief assistance is to be supplied.”
WFP is the United Nations’ front-line agency in the fight against global
hunger. In 2001, WFP fed more than 73 million people in 84 countries
including most of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign — As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world’s 300 million undernourished children are educated.
For more information please contact:
Laura Melo, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Nairobi, Tel.+254-2-622 336 or
Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel.+39-06-6513-2602
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva,
Abby Spring, Public Affairs Officer, WFP New York, Tel.+1-917-3029325