Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sudan's Hungry

For more than five years, the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) and government forces have fought each other to a standstill in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Neither side has attained a significant military advantage. The fighting in South Kordofan generally takes place from November to June, before the region’s rainy season muddies all access points to the rebel strongholds in the Nuba Mountains, making many roads impassable. Normally, government troops retreat before the rainy season begins in earnest, fearing their supply lines and exit points will be cut off. But this year, their forces appear set to remain in key positions, displacing the residents indefinitely and preventing planting.

Destruction to farmlands and damage to markets has brought dire consequences for civilians. Attacks by al-Bashir’s forces and his warplanes have routinely killed civilians for years. What has changed now is that they are accused of waging a systematic war of attrition designed to squeeze civilians out of rebel-held areas by destroying farmland and markets, and blocking planting by civilians during the rainy season.
“This year, the Sudan government has used a new tactic of war – explicitly targeting food supplies,” said Osman Tola, executive director of the rebel agriculture ministry. “President Omar al-Bashir has tried through land offensives that have so far failed, so he is now trying to get people to move to government areas of control.”

According to the head of one aid organization, one of only a handful operating in the Nuba Mountains, Sudanese forces spent an entire week in late March-early April destroying all the farmland and water points in an area called Karkaria, which acts as a fertile greenbelt and water-flow area for the region.

“It’s done purposely,” said Ali Abdelrahman, director of the Nuba Mountains Relief, Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO), a community-based support group. “To set fire to people’s homes, to drive away livestock – purposely to get them hungry. Once you get into that situation, you either die or join government-controlled territories whereby youth are recruited against their own people.”

On 18 June, al-Bashir declared a four-month unilateral ceasefire between the government and rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states; a largely moot gesture since the ceasefire aligns with the rainy season, when fighting naturally subsides. The declaration came too late in the planting season for staple crops, leaving a devastating food gap for next year. Meanwhile, restricted access due to conflict areas and reduced supplies of commodities and currency is driving up market prices, further aggravating civilians’ hunger.

“Prices are going higher and higher every day,” trader Gasim Kuku told IRIN. Civilians in South Kordofan can’t rely on the South Sudanese pound, since it fluctuates wildly, and few have access to Khartoum’s more stable Sudanese pound. “Since you can’t get Khartoum money [Sudanese pounds], you buy goods via dollars, meaning you have to exchange the money, adding cost,” Kuku explained. Traders in the rebel-controlled capital Kauda say the rebel government attempted to control prices but this only led to them stopping sales since they couldn’t make a profit. The price of staples such as sorghum has doubled and may even triple in the months ahead. Traders are even beginning to stockpile the crop for fearing of running out of supplies altogether.   

The net result of all these factors is severe hunger during the ‘lean season’ through August this year, and potential famine in 2017. For some areas, the conflict has already brought a deadly food crisis. In February, the UN said 242 people, including 24 children, had died of hunger-related illness in eight villages over a six-month period in isolated Kau-Nyaro and Werni counties. “I’m so worried,” Benjamin Kuku, executive director of the New Sudan Council of Churches, a faith-based humanitarian organisation, told IRIN. “When 242 people die in eight villages alone, then it makes me worried. I don’t know where people are going to get food in the months ahead.”

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