Government reneges on promise to the Nuba
Sudan Catholic Information Office
Issue may 15, 1999
The government of Sudan is yet to live up to the promise it made last year
to allow relief aid into the parts of the Nuba Mountains controlled by the rebel
Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Consequently, the food situation in the
affected areas remains a matter of grave concern.
According to a recent report on the region, despite the relatively good rains
of last year, over 30, 000 people (about 10 per cent of the population) were
at a risk of severe food shortages from the beginning of this year. This figure,
the report pointed out, was bound to rise with time as military action continues
to destroy villages and household grain stores.
Of much concern, the report states, "is the fact that due to the constraints
imposed by military action and the denial of humanitarian access, it will be
near impossible to respond to the relatively modest requirements of those at
risk this year".
To further confirm that they had reneged on the promise made to the UN secretary-general
Koffi Annan in Khartoum in May last year, the Islamic government has recently
attacked the Nuba people's umbilical cord- the bush airstrips through which
the SPLA and the few dare-devil relief agencies and missionaries replenish the
The report titled Food Security in the Nuba Mountains-Existing Realities and
Trends, was compiled following a one-day workshop attended by a range of agencies
and individuals with interest and knowledge of the central Sudanese region.
Among the agencies represented at the talks held in Nairobi were Nuba Relief,
Rehabilitation and Development Society (NRRDS), Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation
Association (SRRA), Christian Aid and Concern World Wide.
For the Nuba people remaining in their homelands in Southern Kordofan, the
report says, food security has been steadily deteriorating since the start of
The Sudanese military regime of General Omar Hassan el-Bashir, which came to
power in 1989, has resorted to isolating the Nuba in order to deny the SPLA
their (Nuba) support.
Consequently, the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) and the other relief and Christian
agencies operating in Sudan have not been allowed to extend their operations
to the Nuba Mountain areas under the SPLA control.
The resultant desperation has seen thousands of Nuba people relocate to the
government side and other areas in their fight for survival.
In addition, thousands of the Nuba have been forcibly uprooted from their villages
to the government's "peace camps''. In the camps, they are forced to abandon
their culture, they are used as slaves, and men are forcibly conscripted into
the government forces and women and girls given to the Arab soldiers as concubines.
The latter further serves to ensure that the next generation is more Arab than
Those who have remained in their homeland have been forced to abandon their
traditional farming lands on the fertile plains and move en masse into the mountains,
which act as natural fortresses with only few access routes. The routes, which
are unlikely to be known to the enemy, are under strict surveillance of the
Today, all the Nuba subsistence farming depends on cultivation off shallow
stony soils on steep slopes with the inevitable paltry returns.
The situation has further been compounded by lack of access to new crop types
and varieties or appropriate t5rechnologies to deal with the new challenges.
Labour availability continues to be weakened by poor health and the additional
constraints imposed by a weakened natural resource base, with more and more
time having to be spent collecting water and fuel.
The transfer of labour from the agricultural sector to the military has not
made things any better. This, says the report, has left the innumerable women
and female headed households particularly vulnerable.
The report also paints a gloomy picture of the environmental degradation in
the Nuba Mountains. It expalins: "Even with the high level of out-migration,
the effect of the remaining Nuba population on their immediate environment has
The extensive clearance and cultivation of steep mountain slopes for a decade
has initiated a dangerous trend of spiralling natural resource degradation.
With only limited experience and skills of the soil and water conservation techniques
required to ensure sustainable production systems, Nuba farmers are inadvertently
provoking serious erosion of top soil, soil nutrient depletion and damage to
soil structure and water holding capacity. The problem is exacerbated since
the areas available for cultivation are limited , both because of topography
and military action.
The Nuba are a collection of about 50 language groups. Though centrally placed
in Sudan, they have chosen to be part of the south in the protracted civil war.
The definition of their homeland, an area of about 48,000 square kilometres, remains one of the most contentious issues in the Sudanese peace talks under the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Originally numbering about 2 million people, the Nuba population has since
slumped to under 400,000 courtesy of massive out-migration prompted by perpetual
food shortages and general insecurity.
When Khartoum made the promise to Mr. Annan last year, the Nuba people greeted
it with scepticism. The SPLA governor of the Southern Kordofan, Commander Yusuf
Kuwa dismissed it as a desperate attempt by a besieged government to paint itself
in better colours.
He said: "I highly doubt whether the Sudanese government has suddenly
become more humane. For the last 10 years, we have unsuccessfully advocated
for this and so have OLS and numerous other concerned parties."
Contacted for a comment on what became of the promise to Mr. Annan, OLS spokeslady Gillian Wilcox said Khartoum insists the UN assessment team will only be allowed to the Nuba Mountains after the IGAD technical committee meeting earlier scheduled to be held early May.