VIII. THE NEXT PHASE OF THE BAHR EL GHAZAL FAMINE: Wau Displaced in the Famine Zone
When tens of thousands of Dinka Wau residents and Dinka from Wau=s displaced persons camps fled on January 29, 1998, they ran east to rural Dinka territory that was then held by the SPLA. Jur residents of Wau also fled, and the Belanda reportedly escaped also, to their territory south of Wau. The U.N. later estimated that those who fled represented 65 percent of Wau=s population.58 Gogrial and Aweil, also the scenes of Kerubino/SPLA attacks that night, were mostly Dinka, and had populations of about 15,000 and 24,000 respectively.59 Approximately 90 percent of the civilian population of Aweil left that town en route to safer areas and in search of relief,60 and a similar portion of Gogrial=s population fled also. OLS estimated that, all told, there were at least 100,000 leaving Wau, Aweil, and Gogrial at once. The OLS immediately reported that it was Aconcerned that it does not have the resources to meet the survival needs of the growing numbers of people in need in the area.@61
Before the famine, the U.N. had already projected major food deficits for the displaced camps around Wau and the rural areas of northern Bahr El Ghazal.62 The Joint Task Force report states that all OLS agencies and the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA)63 assessments in late 1997 indicated that the humanitarian situation in Bahr El Ghazal would be comparable to that of 1988, the year of a famine in which an estimated 250,000 died in the same region.64 The FAO-WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Sudan estimated in December 1997 that crop production in Sudan would be down by approximately 45 percent from 1997, primarily because of inadequate rains and civil insecurity throughout the season, and that in northern Bahr El Ghazal, Awhich has been impoverished by years of persistent civil insecurity, inhabitants will have difficulty coping with even a relatively small crop loss.@65
The flight from Wau, Aweil, and Gogrial was a disaster for those displaced. Although these were garrison towns where the displaced were already in need of relief, life was still not as difficult as in famine-stricken areas of Bahr El Ghazal to which they fled for safety. Many town dwellers did not have the skills to farm, to build their own huts, or to survive in a famine by searching for and preparing wild foods.66 Nor did they have any assets such as cattle to sell. Most arrived with the barest possessions in a non-monetary economy in a very harsh, hot, and dry environment with no shelter, medical or sanitary facilities, or clean water.
The strain on the already impoverished rural Dinka community was severe: perhaps 100,000 new mouths with no resources of their own were piled on top of the 250,000 already estimated by the U.N. to be at risk of famine if they did not receive outside assistance. In addition, the cessation of hostilities between Kerubino and the SPLA in December 1997 had already allowed many displaced people in Wau to return home to rural areas, further swelling the vulnerable population because they had not yet been able to plant; the planting season starts with the rains in April or May.67
On February 3, 1998, the WFP, alarmed at the sudden increase in needy mouths, announced it was air dropping food to two locations in Bahr El Ghazal where the displaced from Wau, Aweil, and Gogrial had gathered. The WFP said the displaced were living in the bush or small villages, and had Ano food, no water, no clothing and no shelter materials.@68
58 WFP, Emergency Report No. 10 of 1998, March 6, 1998: Sudan.
59 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, May 1, 1998; Aweil population, WHO/UNICEF Mission, para. 2.
60 OLS (Southern Sector), Bahr El Ghazal Emergency Sitrep No. 4, Nairobi, February 14, 1998.
61 WFP, Emergency Report No. 05 of 1998, January 30, 1998: Sudan.
62 OCHA, U. N. Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Sudan, 1998.
63 The SRRA is the relief arm of the SPLM/A.
64 Joint Task Force Report, p. 3. Most of OLS= major donors did not respond adequately to the 1997 predictions. Their response improved after widespread publicity about the famine.
65 USAID, FEWS Bulletin, January 28, 1998: Southern Sudan. In the opinion of some experienced relief personnel, this may overstate the importance of cultivation to the Dinka diet, which traditionally relies also on fish, wild food, and on milk and other cattle products.
66 Many wild foods consumed during famines in southern Sudan are naturally toxic roots that require days of careful preparation; they provide little nutrition but fill the stomach. During the 1998 drought, wild food production was adversely affected by the lack of rain. WHO/UNICEF Mission: Household food resources.
67 Joint Task Force Report, p. 3.
68 "U.N. Starts Airdrop to 150,000 Displaced Sudanese,@ Reuters, Nairobi, February 3, 1998.