UN humanitarian mission to the Nuba Mountains reports

November 12, 1999 (IRIN)

A UN humanitarian mission to the Nuba Mountains has found large numbers of displaced people and access problems to the most vulnerable.

In a report, presented to the Sudanese government and rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLM/A) on Tuesday, the mission concluded that affected populations in the region are currently "best served by supporting rehabilitation of their livelihoods while simultaneously addressing the relief requirements of the most vulnerable and needy".

As a result, a Nuba Mountain programme, with an estimated budget of US $10 million, will be included for the first time in the Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal for Sudan for the year 2000 and focus on interventions intended to reduce dependency on relief and move towards greater self-reliance.

The assessment highlighted access to vulnerable populations as a major problem, especially in SPLM areas, because the few roads that exist are usable only in the dry season. The report said a feeder road programme was urgently needed. The mountains cover some 30,000 square miles in South Kordofan State, about a fifth of which - mostly rural and mountainous - is under SPLM control.

There was no critical food shortage at the moment in either government- or rebel-held areas, but food assistance meets only a small proportion of the food deficit and there remain many vulnerable populations who would benefit from food assistance during shortages between May and September next year, the report stated.

While the Nuba Mountains had been self-sufficient in agriculture before the war, the population had been driven from the fertile plains by insecurity and few households were now able to produce more than 25 percent of their food needs. In addition, the livestock sector had been almost completely destroyed, which had cut incomes, reduced nutrition rates and eliminated an important safety net, the report said.

There are large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) in both government and SPLM areas, though generally over fairly short distances. In government areas, there was a high concentration of IDPs near major towns, who were "living in much poorer conditions, with little access to income-generating options and with limited assistance from the international aid community", the report said. In SPLM areas, this was usually from the fertile plains to the mountains but, overall, "the IDPs fare no worse than the local rural populations among whom they have settled", it added.

The assessment mission found "very limited, inadequately equipped and supplied facilities" in the health sector in SPLM areas, largely staffed by poorly qualified or unqualified volunteer staff. Immunisation cover was also found to be "very limited", with children vulnerable to epidemic outbreaks. The government-controlled areas were found to have a good network of health centres, albeit with basic supplies, and almost total immunisation cover. Despite the limitations, "neither area faces any major immediate critical health emergency, though mortality is needlessly high", the report added.

In SPLM areas, both maternal and child mortality were found to be very high, as was the prevalence of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), "partly attributable to the widespread incidence of rape", the assessment mission reported. Maternal and child mortality figures were relatively low in government areas, as was STD prevalence, it added. In contrast, female genital mutilation (FGM) had "declined markedly in the SPLM areas, partly as a result of strong opposition to the practice by the SPLM leadership".

The civil war has seriously disrupted education in the Nuba Mountains, "especially in SPLM areas where a whole generation of children have been deprived of schooling", the report added. Basic education was slowly being re- established but "there is an acute shortage of all forms of school supplies".

Conditions were also less than adequate in government-controlled areas, "where shortages of equipment and supplies pervade the whole system", and "the consequences of these inadequacies will be reflected in all sectors of recovery and development in the future", the report added.