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 Nuba supplies.

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 war.

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 African.

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 Nuba soldiers.

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 been pronounced.''

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.

Charles Omondi