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Government Denial of Access, and Cost of Air Bridge

Although the government of Sudan grants OLS (Southern Sector) permission, on a month by month, site by site basis, to deliver relief to sites with assessed need, it was never comfortable for military or sovereignty reasons with this system. The government has had greater control of OLS (Northern Sector) based in Khartoum. The OLS Review observed that in Athe northern sector of OLS, the scope and coverage of OLS was determined on the basis of government approval, rather than actual need. The Nuba Mountains, for example, have always been excluded from OLS.@112

The government=s denial of access north and south is a military strategy, based on the premise that by cutting off aid to the civilian population the SPLA will be starved out. This is in line with a counterinsurgency doctrine developed and employed by the European powers and the U.S. against national liberation and opposition guerrilla movements in past decades. They sought to turn Mao Tse Tung=s dicta that Athe guerrillas are the fish and the people are the sea they swim in@ on its head, and to Adrain the sea@ of civilians by displacing and killing them. A variation of this counterinsurgency approach was utilized by the British in Malaysia and Kenya, where the population was cut off from the insurgents by protected villages.

The track record of the current government toward relief for civilians living in the south is scarcely better than that of its predecessors. It has done everything possible to undermine the OLS, drawing back only at the point when the international community shows signs of taking stronger measures against the government. It has developed two main tools to undermine the relief system: refusal of access to locations in need and refusal of permission to use large capacity aircraft, namely the C-130 Hercules.

The refusal of the government of Sudan to permit OLS humanitarian access to a large number of locations has been a greater obstacle to relief delivery than actual military activity, with perhaps the exceptions of the 1998 fighting in Western Upper Nile, and the 1993 SPLA faction fighting in the AHunger Triangle@ of Upper Nile.113 It has even blocked assessment teams from entering areas where it does not intend to permit aid, such as the rebel areas of the Nuba Mountains, where no U.N. assessment has ever been conducted despite a 1992 famine and a serious food shortage in 1998. In 1996, the U.N. review team concluded that AThe main cost inefficiency of OLS is not the mode of transport, but denial of access.@114

This is a strong statement, considering that the cost of air transport is generally agreed to be astronomical: in 1998, each C-130 airdrop of food costed an average of $15,500 and delivered sixteen metric tons of food.115 According to the WFP, the total cost per ton to send corn to Maper, a village in Bahr El Ghazal, was $1,788.116 Sixteen metric tons of food is usually carried on one C-130 flight, which is enough to feed 40,000 for one day.117 Thus it costs roughly $0.715 per person per day to buy and ship corn from the U.S. to southern Sudan. This does not include the cost NGOs incur in distribution and allocation to special classes, such as children.118

During the initial stage of OLS, the Sudan government imposed a flight ban on almost all rebel areas from early 1990 until December 1992.119 The exception was that relief flights were permitted to about seven locations in Upper Nile where Riek Machar=s forces were located, after Riek and others set up a rebel faction separate from the SPLA. The change in international climate forced a change on the government: starting with the assistance to the Kurds of Iraq in 1991 at the end of the Gulf War, and the establishment there of a safe haven protected by U.S. troops, the notion of Amilitary humanitarianism@ began to gain international currency, linked to Asafe area@ strategies and the protection of humanitarian aid. In December 1992, this approach had been extended to Bosnia and to Somalia, a development that may have had some influence on the government of Sudan, which in turn eased the flight ban on rebel areas of southern Sudan in late 1992, the same month that U.S. troops arrived in Mogadishu.120

What was given was always in jeopardy of being taken away. The OLS eventually received access to more than one hundred locations in southern Sudan for most of the period from 1994 on, but the denial of flight access to SPLA areas gradually increased. According to the OLS Review, AFrom an average of four denials per month in 1994, there was an increase to ten denials per month in 1995, and twelve denials during the early months of 1996.@121

The government has denied access for Asecurity reasons@ to locations served by particular airstrips even when there has been no fighting for weeks at these locations. Midway in the history of the OLS, the government insisted on the division of needy areas into Awar zones@ and areas Aaffected by war.@ With the agreement of UNCERO, it restricted U.N. access to Awar zones.@ According to the OLS review, Athis resulted in the first imposed no-go area in the South, in Western Equatoria between December 1995 and March 1996.@122 Thus the government has denied access to locations that can be reached by road as well as by plane: for many months access to areas served by road from Kenya and Uganda was refused.123

Impeding relief operations in rebel areas is accomplished by a second tool in the hands of the government: it withholds permission to use the large aircraft necessary to airdrop food, airdropping being a delivery system used more in rural rebel-held areas than for government garrison towns. The C-130 plane has been the only oneCuntil late 1998Cwith a large capacity to airdrop food in remote regions. It can carry sixteen metric tons of food per flight (enough to feed 40,000 for one day) and make two round trips in one day.124 Barring mechanical failures, fuel shortages, and bad weather, the C-130 has an airdrop capacity of 1,100 MT per month. The smaller Buffalo aircraft in use by the OLS can drop 400 MT per month.125

In early 1995 the government banned use of a Belgian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft by the OLS, Aalleging that it had been dropping arms and ammunition to the rebels,@ although the OLS protested that no supporting evidence to this effect had been produced.126 In November 1995, as a result of a unilateral flight ban imposed by the government, the OLS Review noted that Amore than 250 agency staff were stranded without warning in South Sudan. Apart from the disruption to programmes, the question of possible medical emergencies, and so on, the flight ban was tantamount to a hostage situation.@127 In July 1996, the WFP took the unusual step of publicly appealing to the Sudan government to allow food to be airlifted, alerting the international community that almost 700,000 people in southern Sudan were facing starvation due to the Sudanese ban on large aircraft since September 1995. The government relented and permitted the use of the C-130,128 but banned it again from late March 1997 to mid-June 1997 with similar devastating nutritional effects.129

All OLS (southern sector) locations were affected by these policies, but perhaps none as much as the rural Dinka population of remote northern Bahr El Ghazal, which historically had been almost entirely cut off from OLS and other assistanceCby air, road, railway or bargeCuntil about 1993:

During the first year of OLS [1989], when the SPLA and government agreed to the use of the railway for food deliveries, only 17 MT of food were delivered to stations under SPLA control north of Wau. No further overland deliveries took place until early 1992, when SCF-UK [Save the Children Fund-UK] sent a convoy from Uganda, which reached only to Thiet [east of Wau].130

Air access to the remoter areas of northern Bahr El Ghazal under OLS has been Aproblematic,@ according to the U.N. review team:

A blanket flight ban from [1990-92] effectively inhibited the development of any relief programmes. Since 1993, air access has been irregular. The withdrawal of permissions to fly to certain locations, often following attacks by GOS [government of Sudan] troops or allies, and restrictions on the size of aircraft, have exacerbated the impact of disruptions on the ground in the renewal of insecurity since 1994. This has measurably affected the quality of relief offered to local populations.131

The early bans resulted in no medical services going into the SPLA-held areas and what OLS described as a drastically lowered standard of health: AThe combined effect of denial of relief access and labor exodus during the period 1990 to 1992 was that, by early 1993 when access was resumed, there were instances of high malnutrition and mortality . . . . A major contributing factor to high levels of morbidity was also the long-term lack of any health care.@132 Food drops by air began in April 1993, when Akon was the main airdrop center for Gogrial County, producing the Arelief center syndrome@ or Arelief magnet@ whereby the existence of only one center attracts persons from a wide radius. Although additional Bahr El Ghazal drop sites were added later in the year (seven by July 1994), further attempts to expand the area served were hindered by government refusals. In early 1994, the WFP was able to meet only 45 percent of the assessed food needs for Bahr El Ghazal.133

The year of 1995 was much worse. AThe entire region of Bahr El Ghazal received only 19 percent of its assessed needs for food aid in 1995,@ the U.N. study concluded.134 The region continued to be affected by these constraints, and in 1994 by an additional famine-producing agent not present in other regions: Kerubino=s militia.

112 OLS Review, p. 5.

113 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Civilian Devastation, pp. 146-173.

114 OLS Review, p. 264.

115 Statement of Catherine A. Bertini, Executive Director of WFP to the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives: The crises in Sudan and Northern Uganda, WFP web posted, August 4, 1998. One metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms or 2,200 pounds.

116 "Cost of U.N. Aid Shipment to Sudan,@ AP, August 8, 1998. This includes the price of the corn ($204), shipment from the reserve stocks in the U.S. to Kenya ($77), road transport to Lokichokkio, Kenya ($140), air drop flight to Maper ($972), administrative costs (Kenya) ($279), and administrative costs (WFP headquarters) ($101).

117 OLS (Southern Sector), Press Release, AAnother Large Cargo Aircraft Approved to Deliver Relief Supplies to Thousands if Needy in Southern Sudan,@ Nairobi, April 25, 1998.

118 The distribution on the ground is discussed further below. The cost of $0.715 is for corn only; other items must be included for a minimally nourishing diet.

119 OLS Review, p. 160.

120 Ibid., p. 42.

121 Ibid., p. 57.

122 Ibid.

123 See OLS (Southern Sector), Emergency Sitrep, No. 14 (Nairobi), August 1-31, 1998: Access Issues: Maridi, Mundri, Panyagor, Yomciir, Ikotos, and Karkar were denied clearance by the Sudan government for the month of August 1998; the same were denied clearance in September. OLS (Southern Sector), Emergency Update No. 15 (Nairobi), September 16, 1998. Most of these locations are accessible by road from Uganda and Kenya and are in Western or Eastern Equatoria. In October, after heavy fighting around the Eastern Equatorian garrison town of Torit, many additional rural locations (under SPLA control) mostly in Equatoria but distant from Torit were put off limits to relief by the government. They included Labone, Yei, Nimule, Boma, Duk Padiet, and Koch. WFP, Sudan Bulletin No. 52, October 1-5, 1998.

124 OLS (Southern Sector), Press Release, AAnother Large Cargo Aircraft Approved.@

125 WFP, Emergency Report No. 17 of 1998, April 28, 1998: Sudan.

126 OLS Review, pp. 56-57.

127 OLS Review, p. 160.

128 Daniel J. Shepard, AEmergency food deliveries to Sudan resume,@ Earth Times News Service, August 3, 1996,

129 USAID, FEWS Bulletin, June 26, 1997, Southern Sudan: WFP reported only 18 percent of planned food deliveries were possible in May 1997 due to the government=s flight ban and heavy rains.

130 OLS Review, p. 160.

131 Ibid., p. 161.

132 OLS Review, p. 162. The WHO/UNICEF Mission in 1998 found that interruption due to war suspended training of health personnel, especially medical assistants, for some fifteen to twenty years. The medical assistants working with NGOs in general were older men trained in places like Wau in the 1960s and 1970s. WHO/UNICEF Mission: Health manpower and training.

The commonly reported diseases were malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, acute respiratory infections, skin infections, eye infections, and trauma. Tuberculosis was an important cause of morbidity and mortality. Sexually transmitted diseases, gonorrhea and HIV, were also reported. Several endemic parasitic diseases were reported to cause substantial but localized morbidity and even mortality: onchocerciasis (river blindness), Guinea worm (dracunculiasis), kala azar (visceral Leishmaniasis or black fever), and African trypanosomiasis; control programs for the first two were carried out in Bahr El Ghazal with the support of the Carter Center. WHO/UNICEF Mission: Health status of the population.

133 OLS Review, pp. 162-63.

134 Ibid., p. 161.

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