Major relief operation to Sudan's Nuba Mountains launched

afrol News
15 November

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday launched the first major relief operation in decades to Sudan's troubled Nuba Mountains to urgently feed a total of 158,000 people impoverished and displaced by war.

The 100 tonnes of food airdropped yesterday were part of a planned 2,000 tonnes to be delivered in the coming weeks, the WFP said in a press statement.

After years of UN negotiations, recently facilitated by the United States Government, the government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLA/M) last week agreed on a four-week period of tranquillity to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the poor and war-battered Nuba population.

This relief operation is a fantastic breakthrough after such long and difficult negotiations, said WFP's Country Director for Sudan, Masood Hyder. "It is a great achievement for all parties to be finally able to help thousands of desperately needy people in the Nuba Mountains."

On 11 November, WFP sent a 14-person mission to four locations in the Nuba - Kauda, Karkar, Julud, and Saraf Jamus - to prepare for the airdrops and distribute the food on the ground. As the operation gets underway, WFP planes operating out of an airbase in El Obeid, Kordofan State, will deliver over 100 tonnes of food daily.

For years, the Nuba Mountains have been the site of serious fighting between the forces of the Government of Sudan and the SPLA/M. The recent intensification of military activity has left more than 158,000 people displaced or destitute. Some 65,000 people lost everything - their homes, food stocks, tools, seeds and land to cultivate.

The same drought that affected Darfur and Kordofan and other parts of Western Sudan earlier this year has also had a severe impact on the Nuba, WFP informs. The combination of drought and insecurity has reduced food production by almost 60 percent, pushing another 93,000 people into extreme poverty. Many families do not have access to the most fertile areas in the plains of the Nuba Mountains.

As a result of the conflict, the population is being forced higher and higher into the mountains to cultivate very steep and eroded lands, with little prospect of a good harvest regardless of weather conditions.

Collection of wild foods, which used to be a significant component of the Nuba diet, has also become extremely difficult. Most of these foods are to be found in highly insecure areas in the plains. The threat of ambush, abduction and rape has severely reduced access to these important food items.

Grain consumption currently is reported to be 50 percent below its normal level for this period of the year, resulting in widespread malnutrition. Since May 2001, Nuba civil authorities have reported 450 hunger-related deaths - 271 of whom were children; the levels of kwashiorkor - a sign of grave malnutrition - among children admitted to hospital are historically high.

Food aid is urgently needed if we want to prevent further hunger and displacement among Nuba people, said Hyder. "This relief operation aims to improve the nutritional status of the Nuba people and help them preserve their livestock and other belongings until the beginning of next year, when the next harvest becomes available."

By providing relief food aid, WFP also wants to help people resume their normal lives and protect the Nuba people from losing all their assets. More and more families are selling or slaughtering their livestock to survive. This gradual impoverishment of people will have serious consequences for the nutritional situation of the Nuba people.

The urgent needs of the Nuba people had already been identified during a UN mission in 1999 when a major relief intervention was recommended. However, the recommendation could not be implemented because humanitarian agencies were not granted access to the area.

Efforts to gain access to the Nuba Mountains, however, continued allowing for the current relief operation to take place. While on the ground distributing aid, WFP teams will carry out an accurate assessment of the needs of the Nuba people.

Sources: Based on WFP