Vast humanitarian crisis in Sudan—yet again

By Eric Reeves

August 3, 2012 (SSNA) — Yet again the grim title of "world’s greatest humanitarian crisis" goes to Sudan—this time for developments in the border regions between Sudan and the newly independent country of South Sudan. The crisis is exploding as the rainy season descends fully upon this area, and humanitarian resources are overwhelmed.

Khartoum’s denial of all humanitarian access to rebel-controlled areas within its borders, along with a relentless campaign of aerial bombardment, is generating a continuous flow of tens of thousands of refugees—4,000 per day according to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). But even that June figure is being quickly overtaken according to reports. And no wonder. The regime faces no significant international condemnation or consequences for its role in creating this crisis. That must change.

At various points over the last quarter century, greater Sudan has been the site of vast humanitarian crises, notably in Darfur, in western Sudan. These were foreseeable episodes of human suffering and destruction rooted in deliberate military and political decisions by the ruling National Islamic Front/National Congress Party and Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. If the regime’s tactics have differed, its strategic goal has not. This is "counter-insurgency on the cheap," and it’s painfully familiar.

At present, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced from their homes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states—areas that are part of what is now (northern) Sudan, but which are substantially populated by people who sided with the South during the 1983-2005 civil war. Those fleeing are driven by desperate hunger, a lack of water, and air attacks. There is no accurate census for the numbers who have reached refugee camps in the South (in the Unity and Upper Nile states), but data suggest that the figure is approaching 300,000.

The conditions in the camps are terrible, almost indescribably so—although there have been urgent dispatches from relief organizations for weeks. As rain pours down, one camp is under water; transportation to many locations is now impossible. People are living, sleeping, and tending children in mud. Latrines have flooded and drinking water is completely unfit for consumption (captured rainwater cannot begin to compensate for reliable water bore-holes). Hundreds are dying of dehydration, and MSF estimates that mortality in one Upper Nile camp is twice the threshold for conditions defined by the UN as a humanitarian emergency. Others arrive so malnourished and exhausted that they perish on the spot.

Why are these people fleeing into such desperate circumstances? For over a year now—first in South Kordofan and then in Blue Nile—the Khartoum regime has used its military aircraft to attack civilians and agricultural production. Planes have bombed villages, forcing people to flee for caves and ravines….

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Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade.  He is author of a forthcoming book on Sudan, Compromising with Evil: An archival history of Sudan, 2007 – 2012

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