IV. FAMINE AND RELIEF IN WAU AND BAHR EL GHAZAL: Operation Lifeline Sudan in Southern Sudan
Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) arose out of the failure of the international community, ten years ago, to prevent the 1988 war-related famine in Bahr El Ghazal,93 in which it was estimated that approximately 250,000 people died. What little relief was sent to Bahr El Ghazal during that famine failed to make a dent:
Relief deliveries to Bahr El Ghazal in 1987 were extremely inadequate in relation to an increasing need. With the U.N. estimating that 690,000 people were at risk of famine in Bahr El Ghazal at the end of 1986, an aid agency/U.N. team estimated that 38,250 MT [metric tons] would be required for Bahr El Ghazal to cover just the first six months of 1987. . . . This figure dwarfs the 4,000 MT of relief administered in the whole of 1987.94
Relief to Bahr El Ghazal even dropped significantly the next year: in 1988, the nadir of the famine, only 1,300 MT of food were delivered to Bahr El Ghazal.95
The OLS started up in 1989, and by the end of August 1989 delivered 17,700 MT of food to Bahr El Ghazal, two-thirds of it to government areas such as Wau and Aweil. By then the famine had subsided for other reasons.96
The OLS evolved, and its operations were divided into a northern Khartoum-based sector and a southern Nairobi-based sector. Both northern and southern sectors report to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), formerly the Department for Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) at the United Nations in New York. After seven years of OLS operations, an experienced team conducted a comprehensive review of OLS.97
OLS (Northern Sector) serves beneficiaries in government-held territories, including southern garrison towns, the transitional zones (Nuba Mountains, Darfur), and the Khartoum internally displaced camps. In Bahr El Ghazal, the garrison towns of Wau, Aweil, and Gogrial are served by the northern sector and the surrounding SPLA-held areas of Bahr El Ghazal are served by the southern sector.
OLS (Northern Sector) does not provide any assistance to SPLA-held areas in the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan, which are in the center of Sudan. The government forbids any U.N. or other relief operation to serve this area. The northern sector is coordinated by the overall coordinator for all U.N. relief operations in Sudan, the U.N. Coordinator for Emergency and Relief Operations (UNCERO), based in Khartoum.
OLS (Southern Sector) serves areas of southern Sudan controlled by rebel forces. Its hub of operations is in Lokichokkio, Kenya, on the border of southern Sudan. The lead agency in the southern sector is UNICEF, which works alongside WFP and some forty international and Sudanese nongovernmental organizations. Activities carried out by OLS (Southern Sector) agencies include not only traditional relief activitiesCfood aid, health, water and sanitation, distribution of seeds and shelterCbut also primary education, teacher training, family reunification, livestock programs, training of community and animal health workers, and capacity building for local institutions.98
Southern Sudan is a huge area 640,000 kilometers square, about the size of Texas.99 The OLS (Southern Sector) comprises most of the territory impacted by the 1998 famine, with the exception of the garrison towns such as Wau and Aweil. For historical reasons the southern sector continues to serve the areas under the control of the former rebel movement, the SSIM/A, in Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Western Upper Nile, despite the fact that this movement is now aligned with and receiving arms from the government.
The OLS (Southern Sector) is characterized by 1) operations during an ongoing conflict to internally displaced and other needy people in war-affected areas; 2) approval sought from both sides for operations; 3) non-military means used for relief delivery; 4) the development of its own security apparatus to protect staff, including use of planes to evacuate staff from insecure situations on short notice; 5) use of air delivery for about 80 percent of the goods transported; and 6) an innovative program for disseminating information about human rights, the Ground Rules (a 1994 tripartite agreement among the OLS and two rebel factions) which obliged the rebel movements to adhere to a code of conduct with regard to relief operations and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the body of international humanitarian law (the rules of war).
A 1996 review of the OLS done for the U.N. noted:
From the end of 1992 the nongovernment areas of South Sudan emerged as a form of Asafe area@. While lacking military protectionCfor example, through U.N. peacekeeping troopsC a sophisticated security apparatus has nevertheless emerged which monitors the level of insecurity for humanitarian operations in the conflict zones. This monitoring has allowed for the development of a system of flexible access for humanitarian aid in the context of on going warfare.100
It has been up to the OLS in practice to determine if military activity in any given location jeopardizes its programs, and to evacuate staff whenever the fighting imperils the ability to deliver goods and services. The government has the right to deny access, which it does frequently, often for Asecurity reasons,@ whether or not the OLS shares the government=s assessment of security. In many cases Asecurity@ is a pretext to prevent U.N. access to recently captured locations, or locations the government intends to put under siege.
Almost since its inception, the OLS (Southern Sector) was forced, by inadequate and land- mined roads, and ambushes of overland and river transport (usually by the SPLA but sometimes by government militia),101 to conduct the relief operation mostly by airdrops.102 For accountability purposes, U.N. and NGO staff may be based in or frequently visit program locations; the nongovernment agencies operate the feeding programs for which the World Food Programme supplies the food. As of October 1998, when the southern relief program was operating at its greatest ever capacity, there were a total of 700 staff working for OLS (Southern Sector) in Sudan. This included all the nongovernment organizations, WFP, and UNICEF staff in the field but did not include staff in Nairobi or at the logistical center, Lokichokkio.103
The airborne relief operation is expensive. Being airborne, however, serves several purposes: areas inaccessible due to remoteness and lack of infrastructure can be reached; staff can be protected through air evacuation and more efficiently deployed by plane than by Land Rover or barge; places of military activity can be hopped over. In theory air delivery can distribute goods more widely than can land transport or barge. Before international pressure was brought to bear in 1998, a combination of government restrictions and weather meant that the airstrips were restricted to only one or two to serve a vast area of assessed need, and they became aid ghettoes, provoking new movements of population. The lack of planning on the part of the agencies and the unpredictability of deliveries provoked small speculative population movements and exacerbated social disruption. People died trying to get to aid, and second-guessing OLS schedules.104
The Ground Rules/Humanitarian Principles aspect of OLS= operations has been singled out for praise by the U.N. review:
by the very fact that it is one of the few programmes in South Sudan that is actually documenting how the war is being fought and attempting to do something about it, the use of Ground Rules deserves special mention. Indeed, the use of Ground Rules has achieved a rare thing in relief work. Whereas usually aid agencies disregard human rights as the price to be paid for access, the Ground Rules have brought human rights and humanitarian aid together.105
As one of the architects of the program stated,
The underlying ethical position of the humanitarian principles programme was based upon two fundamental assumptions:
* That the protection of the safety and dignity of victims of conflict is an integral part of a humanitarian mandate. Though this stance flew in the face of conventional wisdom, it was difficult to see how a normatively based position could be otherwise.
* That access to humanitarian assistance is a fundamental right and that the integrity of humanitarian assistanceCensuring its timely arrival to the right peopleCmust be protected.106
The Ground Rules were based on the principles of the right to humanitarian assistance, neutrality, accountability to donors and beneficiaries, impartiality, transparency, capacity building, and protection of civilians and relief staff.107 One of the tasks was to promote adherence to humanitarian principles among the influential parties in southern Sudan: military, civilian, and humanitarian officials, religious leaders, women=s leaders, Sudanese NGOs, traditional chiefs and elders. The dissemination of this message was done by means of workshops held for the different groups, often together: when talking about the recruitment of children into the military, it was important Ato tell both the military commanders and the parents of the children together that this was not to be allowed under the movements= own commitment@ to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.108 This introduction of human rights language and concepts to a wide spectrum of southern Sudanese society, together with other programs to aid civil society, has had a positive impact on the conduct of the SPLA, according to Human Rights Watch=s own observations. It is too early to say whether these changes are permanent; some relief groups observed that the SPLA has failed to continue the reform momentum it had in 1994-96.109
All the programs and plans of OLS depend on adequate financing by the international community. At the onset of the 1998 famine, OLS admittedly Alacked the financial resources to respond on the scale needed.@110 It faced a major funding crisis in 1997, receiving only 40.4 percent of the funds required, and had to scale down several programs and ground flights as a result. This compounded the under-funding in 1995 and 1996, when only half the required funds were provided. Early responses to the 1998 Consolidated Inter-agency Appeal for Sudan (issued in February 1998, before the extent of the famine was known) were also disappointing but by May 1998 donor support had grown considerably,111 while continued adequate funding still remains a serious concern.
99 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) Special Report 97-6, ASouthern Sudan: Monitoring a Complex Emergency,@ September 16, 1997. Southern Sudan is almost three times the size of its neighbor, Uganda, the territory of which is 236,040 square kilometers.
102 Not only food is delivered: medical assistance and inputs such as fishing nets and seeds are provided to help the war-affected population feed itself. Education is assisted, in recognition of the fact that a whole generation is growing up without access to schools during the war.
103 Of this, WFP had ninety-five staff in the field. The WFP, which transports the relief food into southern Sudan, employed fifty staff in Lokichokkio and about 200 local staff on a casual basis at the airstrip to bag and load food onto the aircraft. WFP E-mail, Lindsey Davies to Human Rights Watch, October 23, 1998.
The WFP planned to increase its staff to 125; WFP field staff had numbered only twenty-five in early 1998. News Release, AOLS and the SRRA Announce New Measures to Help Ensure Food Reaches Hungry in Southern Sudan,@ Nairobi, September 9, 1998.
109 Remarks by Kate Almquist, Associate Director, World Vision, at U.S. Committee for Refugees press conference, Washington, DC, December 10, 1998. Relief operations in the normally calm SPLA-controlled Western Equatoria were disrupted in late October and early November 1998 when SPLA troops, deserting from the heavy fighting around Torit which the government eventually won, made their way home to Bahr El Ghazal.
At the time, the OLS announced that it was withdrawing forty-two non-essential staff, leaving twenty in place. News Release, AOLS and the SRRA Announce New Measures to Help Ensure Food Reaches Hungry in Southern Sudan,@ Nairobi, September 9, 1998. This followed two attacks on relief workers and a series of thefts. See Mohamed Ali Saeed, AKhartoum accuses SPLA of hindering relief, taking supplies,@ Agence France Presse (AFP), Khartoum, November 12, 1998.