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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sudan: Food Emergency

Sudan: Food Emergency
Date distributed (ymd): 980602
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains several notices from UN agencies on the current food emergency in the Sudan.

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UN Calls For Urgent Assistance To Save Lives Of Sudanese

May 20, 1998

For UN press briefings and news releases, see the UN Web Site (

Geneva - United Nations relief officials said today contributions were urgently needed in order to save the lives of over 700,000 people in Sudan.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the troubled region of Bahr Al Ghazal alone, an estimated 380,000 people are suffering from severe hunger.

In humanitarian terms, this is one of the toughest years in the recent history of Sudan, said Ross Mountain, OCHA's Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator-designate. Mr. Mountain said Bahr Al Ghazal is not the only region where the combination of drought and insecurity has produced acute emergencies. In the war-affected parts of the country, he added, the United Nations estimated that more than 700,000 people require food and non-food assistance.

During the past few weeks the United Nations has been very pleased with a number of important breakthroughs in access which allows Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) to intervene where needed and to avert famine conditions, especially in Bahr Al Ghazal, Mr. Mountain said. OLS, which brings together United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to deliver relief assistance, has operated in Sudan for the last ten years. Since 31 March, OLS has had access to all locations in Bahr Al Ghazal and to over 180 locations across the country. As of early May, the Government of the Sudan approved the use of eight heavy cargo aircraft including five C-130 and three Buffalos.

Before 23 April, when OLS was only permitted to fly one C-130 aircraft, the United Nations was able to move approximately 32 MTs of food into Bahr Al Ghazal each day. Now with four C-130 aircraft operational, OLS is able to move 128 metric tonnes of food each day. The United Nations has worked around the clock to address the crisis in Bahr Al Ghazal. Within days of receiving permission, extra aircraft were operational. The fifth C-130 is expected to begin flying shortly. OLS now has the access and the logistical capacity to deliver humanitarian aid wherever it needs to go.

Mr. Mountain said the United Nations also has the best opportunity in years to assess needs in the rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains. There are also significant needs in Government areas of the Nuba Mountains which need to be addressed.

'The UN is gratified that all parties have recently agreed to an United Nations mission to assess humanitarian needs in the rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains', he said. 'We appreciate the sensitivity of the issue for all concerned and therefore applaud the agreement of the Government of Sudan, which was announced by the Sudanese Foreign Minister on 13 May, to support the holding of the mission. The UN is making arrangements for this mission which will be launched shortly'.

'We are aware of recent press reports from people in rebel-held areas indicating that humanitarian needs in the area are great and that deliveries to rebel areas should come from the OLS staging base in Lokichokio, in northern Kenya', he continued. 'The United Nations position on this is unequivocal: One, the UN urgently needs to assess the humanitarian needs in these locations. Two, no decision on the routing of relief assistance will be taken until after the assessment has been completed. Furthermore, sole responsibility for these decisions rests with the United Nations alone. At our meeting yesterday, donors strongly endorsed these positions'.

The United Nations appealed to both parties to offer the support required in order for the United Nations to act in the humanitarian interests of the civilians in need in the area, he said.

Mr. Mountain added that yesterday OCHA convened a special set of consultations with donors to discuss the humanitarian crisis, strategies for addressing it and the resources the United Nations needs to stabilize conditions in acute areas.

'At yesterday's meeting', he said, 'the UN was very pleased that donors reaffirmed their support for Operation Lifeline Sudan as the primary vehicle for channelling relief assistance to Sudan and their willingness to provide the financial support to ensure that the United Nations can deliver relief to those in need'. Yesterday donors announced pledges amounting to some $9.6 million, which comes in addition to the $32 million already received by the United Nations this year for humanitarian work in Sudan.

However, the United Nations Consolidated Inter-agency Appeal for Sudan requests a total of $109 million this year for humanitarian assistance to Sudan. The United Nations has received only 38 percent of this amount, leaving an estimated shortfall of $67.4 million.

In the next three to four months, an estimated $35.8 million are urgently required:

  • World Food Programme immediate food needs for areas with acute emergencies, including Bahr Al-Ghazal, are $31.3 million. A number of contributions are in the pipeline which will reduce the net requirements for the next three to four months.
  • United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) immediate non-food needs for Bahr Al-Ghazal have been estimated at $4.5 million to meet health, nutrition and household food security needs.

In addition, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordination Unit requires $741,000. The continuing conflict in Sudan has produced the world's largest group of internally displaced persons. OCHA's office in Khartoum operates one of the United Nations's only integrated assistance and protection programmes for the displaced. According to Mr. Mountain, 'this pioneering programme has enabled us to better address both the emergency needs of populations displaced by war and, in cooperation with the Government of Sudan, to ensure that the longer-term needs of these populations are explored'.

'We now have the access and the capacity', he said. 'Now we need the money urgently to ensure that the UN can save the lives of over 700,000 people in Sudan, one of the worst-hit countries in Africa'.

19 May 1998

Excerpts from Press Briefing on Assistance for Southern Sudan
13 May 1998

At a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Vieira de Mello, made an urgent appeal to the international community for assistance for the people of southern Sudan.

He said the conflict in Sudan was one of the longest running in recent history. He had served in southern Sudan at the end of the first civil war, from 1973 to 1974 and all the work that was done then to return refugees to their homes and provide them with the means for a dignified and peaceful livelihood, had turned out to be in vain, as the war resumed soon thereafter and had been continuing ever since.

He said the situation in southern Sudan had deteriorated since February as a result of renewed hostilities and the effects of the drought that hit the country. As a result, around 800,000 civilians were in danger, and many had already died.


A correspondent said that two weeks ago, Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF, had told journalists she was concerned about an apparent "donor fatigue". Did Mr. de Mello sense that people around the world had become desensitized to disasters, especially in Africa? "Absolutely", he said. That was a problem faced by everyone in the humanitarian community. It was a new and worrying trend, and it was not limited to Africa.

"And let's face it, the amounts we're talking about are not that great when you imagine the degree of suffering that is ongoing in so many of these emergency situations", Mr. de Mello went on to say. He appealed to correspondents to bring the situation to the media forefront. Otherwise, there was no hope of overcoming that indifference. Noting contributions that had been made by Governments, Ted Turner, and other sources, he said that much more was still needed.

To what did he attribute the recent cooperation of the Sudanese Government, and what hope did that give him for a peaceful settlement of the long-running conflict in that country? a correspondent asked. Recommending that the correspondent put the first part of his question to the Sudanese Mission, Mr. de Mello said there was a new and welcome trend in Khartoum. The Sudanese Government seemed to be accepting that humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict did not constitute an interference in its internal affairs.

Relief for the victims was an obligation of both sides in the conflict and of the international community as a whole, Mr. de Mello said. He hoped one of the motives was that the Government had accepted that the United Nations and the non-governmental organizations assisting it were not conducting any "funny business" in southern Sudan. They were simply helping the victims of the conflict until the two parties had the courage and the vision to bring that conflict to an end.

Food and Agriculture Organization



(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply conditions give rise to concern)

DATE: 15 MAY 1998


The food supply situation in southern Sudan gives cause for serious concern. Intensified civil conflict since January, particularly in Bahr El Ghazal, has resulted in fresh waves of population displacement aggravating an already precarious food situation following the 1997 drought-reduced harvest. This, together with difficulties in distribution of relief assistance, has led to severe malnutrition in Bahr El Ghazal, Western Upper Nile and Eastern Equatoria States, with starvation-related deaths reported from some areas. Food prices have risen sharply throughout the region and are too high for the majority of the population. Coping mechanisms have been largely exhausted. Reflecting serious food shortages people have resorted to the consumption of wild fruits and plants. In Bahr El Ghazal region alone 350 0000 people, including 150 000 recently displaced, are at risk of starvation unless adequate relief assistance is distributed urgently. Nutrition surveys carried out by UNICEF on children under five in Wau, the capital of West Bahr El Ghazal, indicate an overall malnutrition rate of 29 percent of which some 9 percent are severely malnourished.

Fifteen years of civil strife has dealt a serious blow to southern Sudan's economy and damaged much of the region's infrastructure. Economic and agricultural activities, as well as traditional trading and exchange patterns, have been seriously disrupted. Agriculture has suffered from physical damage to infrastructure, population displacement, disruption of marketing networks and input delivery mechanisms. Frequent weather hazards have hampered production. A combination of these factors has significantly reduced productivity and food supplies, jeopardizing the food security of the population. The December 1997 FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission estimated that the cereal production in Southern Sudan (excluding the mechanized area of Renk) was 45 percent lower than in 1996. Eastern Equatoria, Lakes, Bahr El Jebel and Bahr El Ghazal were the most affected States, with widespread crop failures due to the prolonged dry weather. Last year’s drought also resulted in poor conditions of livestock and pastures.

Fifteen years ago, two-thirds of the population of southern Sudan derived their living from pastoralism. However, the prolonged civil conflict has resulted in incessant looting and cattle raiding. Even in areas where localized surpluses of grain are available in good years, poor infrastructure and insecurity renders the transport of these surpluses to deficit areas almost impossible. The disruption of economic activity has resulted in high unemployment, which has limited the access to food for many. As a result, large sections of the population have become dependent on food aid and are highly vulnerable to even small reductions in production. Some 60 to 70 per cent of the population in Eastern Equatoria, Bahr El Ghazal, Lakes, parts of Jonglei State and the transitional zones are currently in need of emergency food aid.

Difficulties in transporting relief food aid by land due to insecurity and poor road conditions, as well as restrictions on distribution since early February, have meant that only limited quantities of assistance have reached the affected population. The situation is expected to improve following the Government's agreement with the UN Secretary-General in early May to allow additional relief flights into most areas of the South. However, flights have recently been interrupted by heavy rains in northern Kenya, which have also washed away vital bridges.

Prospects for the 1998 main season food crops, to be harvested from July, will depend largely on rainfall in the next two months. However, early indications are not encouraging. Plantings, which normally take place in April, have been reduced. Large areas have remained uncultivated because of population displacement. Latest satellite images indicate late, erratic and generally insufficient rainfall from late March to the first dekad of May, with precipitation well below normal in Bahr El Gazal, the state most affected by the civil strife, and in areas of Western Equatoria. Severe shortages of seeds, following last year's poor harvest, have also compromised plantings. As a result, prospects so far for this year's harvest are unfavourable. Another poor harvest this year would have serious implications for the food security of the population and widespread starvation may occur unless adequate relief assistance is mobilized to the affected population.

Donors are urged to make additional food aid pledges and to provide financial support for seeds and tools for the next cropping season. Support for the distribution of relief assistance to the affected population is also needed.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

Special Reports as well as quarterly reports on the Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa can be found on the FAO web site (

The Special Alerts/Reports can also be received automatically by E-mail as soon as these are published, subscribing to the GIEWS/Alerts report ListServ. To do so, please send an E-mail to the FAO-Mail-Server at the following address:, leaving the subject blank, with the following message:

subscribe GIEWSAlerts-L

To be deleted from the list, send the message:

unsubscribe GIEWSAlerts-L

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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