Food deliveries vital for Nuba ceasefire

27 May (IRIN)

A recent resumption of humanitarian aid flows to the rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains must translate into the achievement of minimum delivery targets to avert a looming food crisis in the region, according to a group of concerned aid agencies.

"At least 3,000 mt of food must be received in Nuba before the end of June, a further 8,000 mt before October, and all planned seed an tool inputs by the end of May," the group said following a recent assessment mission to the areas of the Nuba Mountains held by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

The first four months of the Nuba ceasefire had brought "mixed results" for the civilian population of the SPLM/A-controlled areas of Nuba, sources said in a statement.

An agreement to implement a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains region of Southern Kordofan, south-central Sudan, was signed by representatives of the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A in Burgenstock, Switzerland, on 19 January, and set to run for an initial period of six months.

While it was widely expected that the agreement would be renewed for a further six months, there was a danger that an insufficient or delayed humanitarian response could put the ceasefire in jeopardy.

On the positive side, many Nuba people had welcomed remission from the threat of military attacks and aerial bombardment, and the unprecedented return of civilians from government-controlled areas. However, insufficient progress in some of the Nuba ceasefire agreement's key principles had contributed to a "growing erosion of confidence in the ceasefire arrangement" in the SPLM/A-controlled areas, sources said.

"Without immediate and sustained resolve to ensure that the food crisis is averted and that the mechanisms to oversee the agreement are fully functioning, there is a grave danger that this remarkable achievement will have been prematurely squandered," the agencies' statement said.

On-the-ground monitoring indicated that at least 150,000 people in SPLM/A-controlled areas were in urgent need of assistance, requiring a minimum of 11,000 mt of food aid to be delivered over the next five months, the statement said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) on 22 May resumed delivery by air of food aid to rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains. The UN food agency said it planned to deliver 4,000 mt of relief food to those areas between now and September, with an initial 324 mt to be dropped over the next 10 days, a WFP spokeswoman, Laura Melo, said on 22 May.

"This is the first stage of an operation that envisages assisting 167,000 people in the SPLM/A-controlled areas - Kauda, Karkar, Julud, Lado and Delami," Melo said.

"In the government-controlled areas, we are taking about 2,300 tonnes by road in the next 30 days, to target around 303,000 people," she added.
Following a joint needs assessment conducted by UN agencies, NGOs, the Sudanese government, the SPLM/A, and donors in January, a plan of assistance to the Nuba Mountains was drawn up, including 4,000 mt of aid to be delivered to each side, originally planned to begin in April. Initial deliveries had been delayed until now, however, due to "various kinds of bureaucratic issues", Melo said.

In order to ensure continued, unimpeded humanitarian access to the region, it was essential to strengthen the mechanisms required for effective political pressure to be applied on all actors, humanitarian sources said.

After several years of negotiations, the UN was for the first time ever guaranteed humanitarian access to the Nuba Mountains in November 2001, during which time WFP provided 2,000 mt of food to rebel-controlled areas.

Included in the Nuba Mountains ceasefire agreement is a provision stating that the parties "shall facilitate humanitarian assistance through the opening up of humanitarian corridors and creation of conditions conducive to the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance to displaced persons and other affected persons".

The agreement also states that the chairman of the international Joint Military Commission (JMC), the body responsible for monitoring implementation of the ceasefire agreement, be responsible for approving all flights destined for the Nuba Mountains.

However, because of recent difficulties in delivering humanitarian assistance in the Nubas, particularly in the SPLM/A-controlled areas, there was "growing evidence" to suggest that the vulnerability of the population had actually increased, despite the conditions of the ceasefire, including the exhaustion of household food reserves earlier than usual due to increased pressures brought on by the need to support returnees, sources said.

"Unless the concerned international bodies [Friends of Nuba, UN agencies and NGOs] take the necessary steps in the coming weeks to demonstrate the potential for the current agreement to offer a real alternative to military struggle, a humanitarian crisis will be precipitated and the process of renewing the ceasefire will be seriously jeopardised," the statement said.

Seasonal heavy rains in the Nuba Mountains are expected to begin in earnest within the coming few weeks, rendering transport across a region with few good roads increasingly difficult. The Nuba Mountains is classed as a sub-humid region, and the rainy season extends from mid-May to mid-October, with annual rainfall ranging from 400 to 800 mm.

In addition to food, seed and tool deliveries, a minimum number of boreholes should be drilled, and adequate supplies of human and livestock drugs delivered before the rains restricted movement by mid-July, sources said.

Efforts were also under way to clear landmines from a sufficient number of roads in the Nubas before the start of heavy rains to allow the JMC to monitor the ceasefire, Chris Clarke, a technical adviser to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), told IRIN recently. The mine clearance team would work for an initial period of 45 to 75 days to make safe key roads in order to allow the Nuba people, as well as the JMC, to move through the region before the start of heavy rains, Clarke said.

"The focus at the moment is on de-mining roads and tracks to allow the JMC and people to move around," he said.
Between 1989 and 2001, 1,135 people had become victims of landmines in the Nuba Mountains, the US State Department recently quoted the Sudanese government as saying.

The Sudanese government has signed, but not yet ratified, the Ottawa Treaty against landmine use, while in October 2001 the SPLM/A signed an agreement on a total ban on antipersonnel landmines throughout territories under its control.

The ceasefire agreement states that the parties shall facilitate "the repair and reopening of roads and the removal of mines", and that the "laying of mines of whatever type shall be prohibited".