Without Urgent International Action to Secure Humanitarian Access, Hundreds of Thousands Will Die in Blue Nile, South Kordofan –
[in Arabic at al-Hurriyat, June 13, 2012: http://www.hurriyatsudan.com/?p=66338] –
Eric Reeves, 16 June 2012
The warnings have arrived with increasing urgency for almost a year: the civilians of South Kordofan and Blue Nile States (in northern Sudan) are facing desperate food shortages and lack of primary medical care. They also face relentless aerial attacks by the military aircraft of the Khartoum regime, which has paralyzed agricultural production. Humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, and intrepid journalists have all pointed to the same terrifying prospect: hundreds of thousands of people are without food to eat and without the means to stave off the diseases consequent upon malnutrition. More than 150,000 of these people have already fled to Ethiopia and South Sudan; tens of thousands continue to make their way south as the seasonal rains set in—4,000 a day according to Doctors Without Borders. These refugees arrive amidst what is now forecast to be a year in which food security in South Sudan will itself present terrible risks to millions of civilians.
Despite these warnings, relentless in their insistence, the basic dynamic of the catastrophe is unchanged: the Khartoum regime refuses to allow international relief efforts into the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan or Blue Nile, indeed refuses to allow even international assessment of conditions on the ground. The African Union, Arab League, and United Nations jointly proposed in early February an access plan to reach civilians in territory not controlled by Khartoum, but by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-North (an indigenous northern rebel organization that has formally severed ties with South Sudan). The SPLA/M-N approved the plan on February 9; four months later Khartoum continues to “study” the proposal and attach new conditions.
Meanwhile, heavy seasonal rains have begun to arrive and transport to many locations will soon be impossible; refugee camps in Upper Nile, where the majority have fled, are poorly located and the rains will make many current locations impossible to sustain.
And the dying has begun. Children arriving in refugee camps are often too malnourished to be revived. Malaria, diarrhea, and other water-borne diseases are taking a terrible toll, especially in Upper Nile. From the Nuba Mountains our information is necessarily anecdotal, but all reports suggest that famine is setting in. Accounts coming to me from the only physician working in the Nuba, Tom Catena, undoubtedly reflect conditions in many locations:
“The food shortages now are very severe. No one seems to have any food stock left and there’s absolutely nothing to buy in the market. We have a small stock here that we’re preserving for our staff and in-patients and are hoping to make it through the rainy season. Most people are eating leaves and these pod-like things from the trees. [ ] The road to Yida [Unity State] is already getting bad so our chances for getting more relief supplies are dwindling.” (email received from the Nuba, May 20, 2012)
These food shortages derive not only from Khartoum’s denial of humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, but from an ongoing, indiscriminate use of aerial military power to make agricultural life impossible. Civilian targets—including villages, fields and cattle—have been assaulted relentlessly since last June, and as a result the harvests in both states were largely lost. And the next harvest, for which planting should begin now, also appears to be lost because of ongoing aerial attacks; mass starvation looms closer by the day. Khartoum’s military ground forces have also continued to burn food stocks in both states.
In October 2011 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization predicted that harvests would “largely fail” in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. By November the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) was warning that “near-famine” conditions would be seen by March without humanitarian relief. Currently health workers are warning of “devastating epidemics” for lack of vaccines for children and other critical medical supplies.
In UN Security Council Resolution 2046 (May 2, 2012) the Council could bring itself to do no more than “urge” that Khartoum allow access to these desperately needy areas. It will take far more than this to move an obdurate regime that has frequently had recourse to the manipulation and denial of humanitarian relief in the past—in South Sudan and Darfur, and most recently in eastern Sudan. The current situation is all too clear, and for many of the most vulnerable, any action taken now will be too late.
But the lives of many hundreds of thousands remain acutely at risk. Will we simply watch them die? The international community must move urgently and immediately to establish humanitarian corridors into these desperate regions, with or without Khartoum’s consent.
[Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day‘s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.]