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Prospects for Renewed Famine in 1999

The U.N. warned that during 1999, Amore specific locations are at risk of developing into disaster zones than at any previous time in OLS history.@11 It concluded that emergency assistance must be maintained Afor at least the first nine months of the new year at similar levels [to 1998].@ It warned that all humanitarian actors Amust accept responsibility for the fact that reduced funding will potentially condemn millions of Sudanese to destitution, disease and, in hundreds of thousands of cases, possible starvation.@12

The outlook for Sudan, after fifteen years of continuous conflict, is grim. The U.N. says in no uncertain terms that the war has sapped Sudan=s people to such an extent that Aonly a stop to the conflict and massive state investment can possibly rehabilitate communities to a point where they are once again sustainable.@13 The U.N. can only provide enough in order to ensure basic survival, and sometimes it cannot do even that, given problems of access and funding.

Many agencies cautioned against premature optimism and predicted, as they had been doing since mid-1998, that the need for massive amounts of assistance for Bahr El Ghazal would persist until the 1999 harvest was collected, in October 1999.14 The U.S. Committee for Refugees concluded that all factors in favor of mitigating the famine peaked in late 1998: full funding for OLS which was operational at a higher than ever level; southern Sudan flooded with relief food; adequate harvests in some locations; and a cease-fire. It warned that these favorable conditions were all to expire in early to mid-1999, and this would provoke another serious famine.15

A November 1998 UNICEF survey found that cases of malnutrition among young children in several locations in Bahr El Ghazal were Aunacceptably high,@ although they showed a marked improvement in nutrition compared to an August survey. Where there was malnutrition of 43 percent in Wau in August, by November the rate in Wau was down to 9.6 percent and down to 27.8 percent at the displaced persons Eastern Bank Camp on the outskirts of Wau.16

The need for massive amounts of food aid continued: A>Although there has been improvement, it=s still going to be a grim year ahead for those recovering from the 1998 crisis,=@ said a WFP spokesperson. A>That=s why we will continue to pour in food, not only so that the very weak can continue to survive, but so others can start to recover. It=s still a long way off.=@17 The WFP explained that more than two million people would need at least 150,000 MT of food aid until October 1999 when the harvest is expected. A>It takes years for people to recover once caught in such a vicious cycle of desperation,@ said another WFP spokesperson.18

The U.N. coordinator for all Sudan relief operations, Philippe Borel, warned, AEven a few weeks of insecurity, especially in Bahr el Ghazal, could produce the kind of crisis we were confronting earlier this year [1998].@19

AInsecurity@ means military activity. The immediate and primary concern of relief agencies was that the three-month Bahr El Ghazal cease-fire that started on July 15, 1998, was extended another three months until January 15, 1999, would be renewed, which it was, until April 15, 1999. The ability to plant and harvest depends on the extension of the cease-fire, at least until October 1999.

A wild card has reappeared in Bahr El Ghazal: Kerubino is back in government-controlled southern Sudan, hoping to return to Bahr El Ghazal to link up with his militia,20 which may qualify as the worst possible development in human rights and famine containment terms.

11 OCHA, AConsolidated Appeal for 1999," p.2.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., p. 7.

14 Karl Vick, AAid Agencies Warn Anew That Sudan Faces Famine,@ Washington Post, Nairobi, December 24, 1998.

15 Remarks of Jeff Drumtra, Press Conference, U.S. Committee for Refugees, Washington, DC, December 10, 1998; USCR, ASudan in Late >98.@

16 Judith Achieng, AMalnutrition On The Rise,@ IPS, Nairobi, December 23, 1998.

17 "Aid Agencies Warn S. Sudan Could Revert To Acute Famine,@ AP, Nairobi, December 22, 1998.

18 Achieng, AMalnutrition On The Rise.@

19 Karl Vick, AAid Agencies Warn Anew That Sudan Faces Famine.@

20 Matthew Bigg, ASudan warlord defects back to government,@ Reuters, Nairobi, January 5, 1999.

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