Food situation worsens in southern Sudan as civil conflict escalates

An escalation of civil strife in the Sudan since January has aggravated an already precarious food situation following the 1997 drought-reduced harvest, according to a recently released Special Alert. Severe malnutrition and starvation-related deaths have been reported in the hardest-hit states of Bahr El Ghazal, Western Upper Nile and Eastern Equatoria. "In the Bahr El Ghazal region alone 350 000 people are at risk of starvation unless adequate relief assistance is distributed urgently," warned the Alert.

The intensified conflict has forced fresh waves of people to flee their homes and farms, increasing food insecurity in southern areas. Food prices have skyrocketed out of the reach of most of the population. Coping mechanisms have been largely exhausted. People have resorted to eating wild fruits and plants.

But insecurity and badly damaged infrastructure, the result of 15 years of uninterrupted civil strife, have hindered relief operations so far. Difficulties in transporting food aid and agricultural inputs by land have meant that only a fraction of what is needed is reaching the affected population.

Restrictions on distribution imposed in early February have only made matters worse, although the government's agreement with the UN Secretary-General in early May to allow additional relief flights into most areas of the south should improve the situation. Recent flights have been interrupted by heavy rains in northern Kenya, which have also washed away bridges, further inhibiting distribution attempts.

Prospects for 1998's harvests are poor, according to the report, issued by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS). Plantings have been reduced, in part because of a severe seed shortage. Large areas of land remain uncultivated as people flee their homes and farms. And rainfall at planting time in April was below normal.

"Another poor harvest this year would have serious implications for the food security of the population and widespread starvation may occur unless adequate relief assistance is mobilized to the affected population", the report warned.

In early 1998 UNICEF together with FAO made an appeal of over US$4 million to provide emergency assistance to the most destitute farmers in the Equatorial and Bahr El Ghazal regions. Should funding materialize the project will provide sorghum, millet and groundnut seeds and agricultural handtools, as well as fishing line and hooks, to vulnerable farmers and fisherfolk. It will also aim at reducing the threat of rinderpest outbreaks by providing vaccine and related supplies and equipment. However, funding received so far has been insufficient. FAO is providing technical assistance to this project. An FAO senior agronomist technical adviser will be fielded to Khartoum in early June.

26 May 1998

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