Armed men and their callous lack of concern about human life, particularly southern black African life, caused the famine of 1998, as they did the famine ten years before. In 1998 the armed culprits are the government=s armed forces and its militias, including the PDF, the muraheleen, the Kerubino and Paulino Matiep militias, and the SSDF of Riek Machar; and the SPLA.
Although it is fashionable in some circles to blame this war and other famines and disasters on the OLS and international NGOs, they do not have the power to cause the famine. While the actions of the U.N. and some NGOs to recognize and to halt the famine may have been inadequate in hindsight, many donors initially chose to disbelieve early reports from the OLS and NGOs warning of impending disaster. Time was wasted in debates on terminology ("was it famine," "pre-famine," "food crisis")227 and opportunities were lost while pot-shots were taken at favorite targets such as "relief pornography."228
Clare Short, the United Kingdom=s secretary of state for international development, said in May that there was little point in trying to get aid to the starving unless there was a cease-fire and access guarantees.229 This was later vindicated, according to the Independent among others.230 Ms. Short claimed later in May, however, that the public emergency appeal which raised millions of pounds for the private charities to feed the starving in southern Sudan was Aunnecessary@ and misleading. She said governments could fund all the emergency aid required.231 After the extent of the famine became known, she was rebuked for these statements by Parliament's International Development Committee, which pointed out that United Nations appeals to member governments for funds to help Sudan's people had raised barely half the sum requested for 1998, and noted that estimates of the number of Sudanese people needing humanitarian assistance had risen from 250,000 in late 1997 to 2.5 million in June 1998. The committee report said, Awe consider it to have been premature of the Secretary of State to announce in such bald terms that there was no lack of money or resources for Sudan.''232
Aid to Bahr El Ghazal has been intermittent at best, in 1995 meeting only 19 percent of the assessed need, pursuant to agency estimates of population and need.233 Nevertheless, some see an intimate link between the provision of aid and the continuation of the war.
Critics of the aid regime believe that an economy has developed on the basis of international allocation of assets (food and non-food items provided as relief) to the region, and that these assets are in effect used by the political and military elites to keep themselves in power. This war has become a "permanent emergency," convenient as a source of international finance for elites especially when little other investment is reaching this impoverished country.234
Others contend that humanitarian assistance fuels the conflict by being diverted by the various armies to feed their own troops, among other things. They argue that the objective should be to make aid less wasteful, more accountable, more transparent, and more coherent. They believe that it is even possible to turn aid around to work for peace. Stopping the flow of food to the troops might affect the parties= desire to settle the conflict, they argue, and even if aid is not prolonging the war, it is certainly not doing anything to bring the war to an end.
Still others take a less subtle approach. There are some who advance the theory that if aid is cut off, both parties will be faced with needy populations demanding food, and will be forced to negotiate an end to the war. The parties will have to behave "responsibly."235
The latter theory is pernicious. It ignores the direct role these armed parties have, through their human rights abuses, in causing the food shortages. There is nothing in Sudanese human rights history to suggest that the main parties to the armed conflictCthat is, the government and its militias, and the SPLACwill put the needs of civilians ahead of military considerations, and behave Aresponsibly.@ Furthermore, if aid is cut off, the main victims would be not Athe government=s civilians,@ but southerners they consider to be rebel supporters, as was the case in 1988 and is the case today.
The government has proven, with each denial of access to rebel-held areas, that it is willing to sacrifice the needs of marginalized populations on the theoryCof which there is little proofCthat if the civilians do not receive aid, the SPLA will not be able to carry on the fight. This is most dramatically illustrated by the government=s years-long refusal to permit even a United Nations needs assessment team into the Nuba Mountains, despite demonstrated need. Nothing in the government of Sudan=s current acquiescence to access to Bahr El Ghazal suggests that the government has abandoned this Adraining the sea@ approach, and therefore its actions should be kept under close scrutiny by the international community to assure that it does not back out of the new attitude it adopted in May 1998.
The government of Sudan agrees with claims that international relief Afuels@ the conflict, and believes that food and other aid helps the SPLA: this is obviously behind flight bans and other restrictions on access. The government prefers to ignore that its garrison towns and corrupt officials, too, benefit from the relief aid going to them. As recently as May 1998 government agents in Raga, Western Bahr El Ghazal, managed to divert food, as duly noted by the WFP: AThe road operation to pre-position food in Wau started in mid-March, but only some 160 tons of food out of a planned 400 tons reached Wau by road, as the trucks were delayed at Raga by the Peace Forces for more than one month.@236 As during the 1988 famine, Raga, 200 miles west of Wau, was an outpost where relief food intended for the Dinka in Wau got stuck permanently.237 The government also seems to forget that the SPLA sieges of garrison towns, particularly Juba, the largest and most distant from the north, have been thwarted by international airlifts of relief food. Lutheran World Federation and WFP flew in food to Juba, relieving the siege there, in 1988.238 Put more bluntly by another study, Afood aid has kept Juba alive for over eight years.@239
The SPLM/A has not shown any great concern about the welfare of residents of garrison towns, nor even about the welfare of people living under its jurisdiction. It reportedly has tried to stop people from leaving SPLA territory to enter garrison towns in search of food, although this obviously was not a sustained effort. It has on occasion caused people to move to relief centers, thus increasing the likely flow of aid to those centersCand to SPLA forces nearby. It is likely that its actions and inactions were partly to blame for the continued high rate of malnutrition in famine epicenters.
Like the government, the it has harshly criticized the OLS operations, although on different grounds.240 Some SPLM leaders even call for an end to the OLS because of its Aconnivance@ with the government of Sudan to deny assistance to the Nuba Mountains and for its subservience and acquiescence to Khartoum dictates over relief flights clearance. They believe humanitarian intervention has contributed to the sustenance of war, and is creating dependency and eroding traditional coping mechanisms.
The SPLA also complains that the relief scheme has turned traditional family relations on their heads: where the husband used to provide food, now the wife, the agencies= preferred beneficiary for many reasons, controls the food and the husband has to Abeg@ from her. They object to the practice of targeting certain sectors of the community and excluding the fighters as a recipe for friction.241 The SPLA claims that it is unreasonable to expect civilians to withhold food from SPLA soldiers who are, after all, their relatives. It objects to the artificiality of targeting food programs to the Avulnerable@ according to western standards, rather than following local priorities for food distribution.242
As the Joint Task Force discovered, however, local traditional priorities may neglect the internally displaced, widows, and those in supplemental feeding programs. This neglect is another illustration of the breakdown of kinship ties under the stress of displacement and famine. It is also evidence of the traditional shortchanging of widows.
The OLS= respect for government sovereignty was an especially sore point to the SPLA and others during the two-month government Bahr El Ghazal fight ban in 1998. The OLS seeks and receives, on a monthly basis, government and rebel permission for each location served. It is U.N. policy to respect the sovereignty of a member stateCdespite the fact that in Sudan sovereignty exists in name only over extensive rebel-controlled areas.
The sovereignty dilemma arises because the government has exploited sovereignty to defeat the humanitarian purposes of the OLS and to manipulate food aid for military advantage, and the international community protests only when the situation is desperate. The government has succeeded in instituting a very tight regime with little OLS relief in the government-controlled areas, and the OLS is said to have acquiesced in this, to have traded access in the north (abandoning the perhaps two million internally displaced in Khartoum and an estimated 400,000 in the rebel areas of the Nuba Mountains) for access in the south.243
The OLS is also criticized because it has acquiesced in the charade of the government=s flight bans for "security reasons," even in the south. In particular critics note that the OLS, WFP, and the U.N. did not protest loudly or effectively enough in February and March 1998 when all Bahr El Ghazal was subjected to a flight ban. Others criticize OLS and WFP for not flying in defiance of the government ban during the first months of the famine. Aside from the practical limitations a non-approved flight entails (insurance is not available and the risk of a shoot-down exists), such a step must be authorized not at the OLS (Southern Sector) level but at a higher level of the U.N.
Whatever its limitations, at least four factors make the OLS the main game in the current famine situation, as almost all have recognized: the need for large quantities of food; the need for speed of delivery; a dearth of infrastructure, with dirt roads and bridges made impassable by the elements, land mines, sabotage, or attacks; and geography: remote and inaccessible locations in a vast area of harsh climate.
Non-OLS NGOs provide some assistance to rebel areas in need. They include the ICRC, a large organization operating in most of the conflict zones of the world independently of the U.N. and other NGOs. The ICRC, with safety guarantees from both sides, resumed operations in Sudan in June 1998 after a nineteen-month break following the kidnapping of its staff by Kerubino, then with the government.244 Operating outside of OLS on both sides of the lines, it runs a surgical hospital with 560 beds for the war wounded and for other emergency medical needs occurring in rebel-held territory in Lopiding, northern Kenya.245 It has been engaged in famine relief on both sides in locations such as Wau and Tonj and also maintains a medical facility in government-controlled Juba.246
Other non-OLS NGOs include Norwegian People=s Aid.247 Their airborne operations are not regular because charters are costly; the long distances consume expensive fuel and flight insurance is a limitation, as noted. While they maintain flexibility and challenge the OLS, they do not have the experience or capacity that ICRC, UNICEF, or the WFP have to mount large-scale operations.
Operating under the OLS umbrella is cost effective for smaller NGOs which can share the cost of flights. In fact some NGOs were operating outside OLS in mid-1998 because their application to join OLS was stalled because OLS was short of funds.248
While the ways in which relief has been diverted for the benefit of the parties and other politically powerful groups have been studied, it does not follow that an aid cutoff will bring an end to fighting, because the parties to the conflict are not solely motivated nor sustained by emergency relief. The 1988 famine demonstrated that war could persist despite an extremely low level of food assistance to famine victims and a staggering number of civilians deaths. The Dinka were impoverished in large part because of the forcible transfer, by military means, of Dinka cattle and other wealth (but not relief food) to the Baggara, and became vulnerable to famine. Yet the SPLA did not surrender and was not defeated, and the government did not win. The 1998 famine is making the same point.
In the Nuba Mountains, if relief is fueling the war, it is the relief that is going to government Apeace camps.@ No relief is permitted by the government to the rebel side. The Nuba rebel leaders are not trying to dismantle OLS; they want it extended to civilians in their jurisdiction, where there is need. In the long term they are more interested in strengthening education, health, and public administration through OLS than in food supplies, on which they say they do not want to become dependant.
The pressure to jettison OLS continues. We do not expect the government to explain how, once emergency OLS relief is ended, those who are dependent on it will survive, since the government has never shown concern about that. We do expect, however, that those outside the government who endorse such extreme approachesCincluding the SPLM/A which claims to be the de facto government of large parts of southern SudanCwill provide more facts to support their theory that an aid cut off will lead to peace. Certain questions must be addressed: When OLS is dismantled, how long will it take for the armed parties to negotiate to end the war? What economy will take the place of the aid-dependent one? Who will be the beneficiaries, and who the losers, in that new economy? Will it provoke out-migration (as did the famine in 1988), further weakening the southern rural economy, with lethal consequences? How many will migrate north? Which northern communities will receive them? Will they need or receive assistance? How many will migrate to garrison towns? How will they support themselves there? How many will cross over to neighboring countries as refugees?
How many southerners no longer receiving relief can be expected to suffer food deprivation, terrible sanitation conditions, illness, and no medical assistance, and finally die? What is the cutoff point of tolerable deaths? One thousand? One hundred thousand? There are also moral questions arising from the sacrifice of the few (or the few tens of thousands of vulnerable children, elderly and infirm) for the many who could gain by a cutoff of aid and a theoretical end to the conflict.
The perspective of UNICEF was set forth by Carol Bellamy, its executive director, on a visit to Sudan. AI just 100 % reject the idea that by keeping people alive that a crisis that requires a political solution is extended. . . . We . . . are not prepared to say, >Now, if a few more people die, maybe they would get the war over with.=@249
This is not to say that OLS operations could not be improved.250 The challenge is to do so in a way that does not deal a death blow to southerners, who are barely managing to survive as it is. Nothing justifies throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The fault lies with the armed parties who abuse human rights and thus create the famine. If the aim is to end the conflictCwhich is among other things over control of territory and resources far more valuable than relief foodCthere should be far more direct ways to achieve it.
The movement to find a political solution to the conflict (that does not involve using food aid as a tool) has been gaining momentum among relief NGOs251 and even U.N. agencies. Agencies which do not usually take a position on war and peace issues have been spurred by the famine to ask for an end to the war. The WFP=s director, Catherine Bertini, made this call in July 1998.252 The OLS has long pointed out that Amassive relief assistance@ is not Aa viable or desirable long-term solution to the humanitarian emergency,@ and that it is important for the international community to push for political solutions that will bring peace and security to Sudan.253
In late 1998, four international NGOs working in Sudan (Save the Children Fund, CARE International, Oxfam,254 and MSF) appealed for a resolution and end to the war. They met with the U.N. Security Council on October 26 to present a position paper and argue that greater political will and effort be applied to finding a solution to the war, which, unimpeded, will go on for many more years, with famine as the byproduct.255 The encounter was only the second time the members of the Security Council had agreed to meet with private aid organizations. The agencies received a commitment that the Security Council would move on Sudan, and shortly thereafter the U.N. sent Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Kiernan Prendergast to the region to revive peace efforts.0
The agencies argued that regional peace efforts by IGAD A>achieve little for the fundamental reason that both the government and the SPLA act as though their interests are better served by war than peace.=" None were willing to suspend relief operations, however, although critics have argued that the outside aid may be helping to prolong the war. "=This is not an option; far too many people would die,=" said an official of CARE International. They urged the U.N. to persuade the Sudanese government and the SPLA to extend a temporary cease-fire agreed to in the province of Bahr el-Ghazal to all of southern Sudan and maintain it throughout 1999. Unless that happens, both sides might withdraw their forces from Bahr El Ghazal (where a cease-fire is in place) and step up fighting in other parts of the country, they warned.1
Shortly thereafter, the Sudan government accused these organizations of mixing politics with humanitarian work in the south. A>Some NGOs conceal political purposes in their humanitarian activity, to serve the political ends of countries hostile to the Sudanese cultural (Islamic) [sic] orientation,=@ said Major General Hassan Osman Dhahawe, minister of state for social planning.2 He claimed that CARE, MSF, Oxfam, and Save the Children Fund, the four organizations that met with the Security Council to lobby for peace, issued damaging and misleading reports on the famine. This attack was somewhat puzzling, since the government had lobbied for a complete cease-fire several times in 1998. The minister specifically rejected as Abaseless@ an MSF quote in a news report that in July about 120 people were dying daily in Ajiep;3 the source of his information was not revealed, however. Ajiep has been in SPLA hands throughout the famine.
The search for solutions goes on as war-time human rights abuses induce famine and threaten thousands of Sudanese men, women, and children with death by starvation or military assault.
227 See George Alagiah, AHungry for the Truth,@ Guardian (London), May 25, 1998, responding to some British aid agencies= criticism that his reporting exaggerated the crisis.
228 See AThe Rest of the Story,@ Brill=s Content (New York), December 1998/January 1999, pp. 38-39, commenting on a photograph in southern Sudan by award-winning Tom Stoddard of an emaciated child on hands and knees staring up at a well-dressed figure who has stolen relief food the boy was given. The photograph appeared with others in AA Famine Made by Man,@ U.S. News and World Report (New York), September 14, 1998, pp. 38-43.
229 AFamine Victims Need Peace Not Charity,@ Sunday Telegraph (London), May 3, 1998.
230 AHow aid can make a lasting difference,@ Independent (London), November 21, 1998.
231 Owen Bowcoff, AShort attacks Aunnecessary@ charity appeal for Sudan,@ Daily Telegraph (London), May 21, 1998.
232 ABritish MPs back charities in Sudan appeal row,@ Reuters, London, August 6, 1998.
233 OLS Review, p. 161.
234 Mark Duffield, ANGOs, Disaster Relief and Asset Transfer in the Horn: Political Survival in a Permanent Emergency,@ Development and Change (SAGE, London, Newbury Park and New Delhi), vol. 24 (1993), pp. 131-57; see Duffield, AThe emergence of two-tier welfare in Africa: marginalization or an opportunity for reform?@ Public Administration and Development, Vol. 12 (London: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 1992), pp. 139-54; Duffield, ARelief in War Zones: Toward an Analysis of the New Aid Paradigm,@ Third World Quarterly, vol. 18 (3) (1997); Duffield, APost-Modern Conflict: Warlords, Post-Adjustment States and Private Protection,@ Journal of Civil Wars (April 1998).
235 "Food for war,@ Financial Times (London), May 15, 1998 (Adonors free the protagonists from responsibility for their actions, thus reducing the pressure to reach a settlement.@).
236 WFP, Emergency Report No. 22 of 1998, May 29, 1998: Sudan.
237 In 1987 nearly 9,000 MT of sorghum destined for starving Dinka displaced in Wau was pillaged at Raga with the connivance of local officials. Burr and Collins, Requiem for the Sudan, pp 75-80.
238 Burr and Collins, Requiem for the Sudan, pp. 145-46.
239 African Rights, Food and Power in the Sudan, p. 238.
240 See the discussion regarding the Joint Task Force, above.
241 SPLA communication to Human Rights Watch, July 1998.
242 See AIn the Countryside of Bahr El Ghazal; People Make Do with Precious Little While the OLS Food Helps the NIF Regime to Convert the Population To Islam In Wau Town,@ Sudan Democratic Gazette (London), Year IX, No. 101, October 1998, pp. 6-7.
243 AThe equivocal autonomy of OLS in the South has thus been purchased at the expense of displaced and war-affected populations in the North.@ OLS Review, p. 60.
244 Rosalind Russell, ARed Cross returns to Sudan after 18-month absence,@ Reuters, Nairobi, May 14, 1998.
245 "Dozens of Sudanese war-wounded stream into Red Cross hospital,@ AFP, Nairobi, September 29, 1998. The ICRC hospital is staffed by seventeen expatriates and 150 national employees, admits 2,000 patients and carries out 5,000 operations each year. ICRC, AUpdate No. 98/05 on ICRC Activities in Sudan,@ Geneva, December 8, 1998.
246 ICRC, Press Release, AEmergency assistance in Bahr Al Ghazal province,@ Geneva, July 17, 1998.
247 See Burr and Collins, Requiem for the Sudan, pp. 243-44 (NPA provided aid for southerners in SPLA villages in the early 1990s).
248 Human Rights Watch interview, Sudan, May 7, 1998.
249 Hugh Nevill, AAid agencies feeding two armies in Sudan,@ AFP, Nairobi, July 27, 1998.
250 See OLS Review and Joint Task Force Report, among other studies.
251 See Sudan Focal Point-Europe conference paper presented at Conference: Sudan - A Cry for Peace, Stockholm, October 16-17, 1998, analyzing the setback to the peace process caused by the U.S. bombing of Khartoum on August 20, 1998, and the prospects for peace. Sudan Focal Point-Europe, Weinberg 62, P.O.Box 1900964, 31134 Hildesheim Germany.
252 "WFP director urges the world to end war in Sudan, A AFP, Nairobi, July 10, 1998; WFP, Press Release, AStatement of Catherine A. Bertini, Executive Director of WFP to the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives: The crisis in Sudan,@ August 4, 1998, web posted at http://www.reliefweb.int.
253 OLS, AAn OLS Position Paper: The Humanitarian Emergency in Sudan,@ Nairobi, July 31, 1998.
254 Oxfam GB=s paper entitled AGetting back on the road to peace,@ London, August 28, 1998, also pointed out that the momentum for peace suffered a severe setback because of the U.S. missile attack on a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum. The paper presented alternatives on how to restart the peace process.
255 OCHA, Minutes of OCHA/InterAction Meeting, October 30, 1998. See Save the Children Fund, CARE International and Oxfam GB, ASudan: Who has the will for peace?@ (October 22, 1998), webposted on December 1, 1998, at www.sudan.net/wwwboard/news/41329.html.
0 Paul Lewis, APrivate Aid Groups Press U.N. To Help End Sudan's Civil War,@ New York Times, United Nations, November 1, 1998.
2 "Sudan accuses NGOs of serving hostile political ends,@ AFP, Khartoum, December 28, 1998.