Thousands risk starvation in south despite peace deal

KHARTOUM — Food supplies are critically low in many parts of southern Sudan, exposing thousands of people to starvation, the region’s leaders and humanitarian agencies have warned. They blame the looming crisis on a poor harvest, the return of thousands of refugees and the inability of humanitarian agencies to provide adequate food for the needy due to a shortfall in funds.
The humanitarian situation in the south featured strongly when leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) John Garang met visiting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sunday in the southern regional capital Rumbek.

“There are people actually who have starved to death. The UN food pipeline is virtually empty. And so Mr Secretary General please do something about this,” Garang said. Annan had hoped to use his visit to Rumbek to urge the SPLM leader and others to hasten the implementation of the January peace agreement that the SPLM signed with the government.

The accord, signed in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, ended more than two decades of conflict between the north and south. The war pitted the mainly Christian and animist south against the Muslim and Arab-dominated central government in Khartoum and cost an estimated 1.5 million lives, the majority from disease and hunger.

But the UN chief, on his first visit to southern Sudan, was confronted by a different reality, as the SPLM leader shifted focus from the agreement to the pressing humanitarian situation in the region.

Garang said later he “emphasised the issue of the hunger, the very severe hunger and famine that is afflicting southern Sudan and all our areas.”

World Food Programme (WFP) senior deputy director, Jean-Jacques Graisse, agreed the situation was getting desperate.

“I am worried some areas may suffer a disaster if we don’t have the resources to save lives,” Graisse said in a statement last month after a tour of the troubled Darfur region and the south.

Former rebel-controlled southern Sudan is a landlocked region that has borders with sometimes unstable countries such as the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia.

The area is littered with landmines and access for humanitarian agencies remains very difficult as tens of thousands of refugees start trickling back to their villages.

The WFP said the failure by donors to honour their pledges was seriously hampering its operation to feed some 3.2 million people in Sudan.

According to the WFP, the operation “has a massive shortfall of $224 million [74 per cent] out of the $302 million required.”

“This is the make or break time for millions of the world’s poorest people. The world cannot in good conscience sit back with hands folded at this difficult and important time,” said Graisse. The WFP said that in May, “malnutrition emergencies were identified in several southern towns, requiring the urgent delivery of more food aid.” It added that in certain areas, admissions to therapeutic feeding centres tripled. And in others, “malnutrition rates were double the emergency threshold.”

The UN chief, responding to Garang’s argument that money pledged by donors was “not touching us now as our people starve,” conceded the world was not doing enough. Annan said a donors’ conference which he attended in Oslo in April had come up with $600 million in hard cash.

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