NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Malnutrition rates in Sudan’s war-torn border states have doubled to 30 percent as starving people, denied humanitarian aid, eat just one meal every three days, activists said on Friday as they urged the African Union (AU) to launch an inquiry into what they called “crimes against humanity”.
The war in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the Sudanese government has been fighting rebels for over a year, will be on the agenda of the AU summit, which opens on Jan. 21 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“This is one of the world’s biggest humanitarian and human rights disasters,” said Mukesh Kapila of the Aegis Trust lobby group, which campaigns against genocide and crimes against humanity, after returning from a 10-day trip to the region.
The 30 percent malnutition rate refers to the percentage of children under five who are deemed to be critically malnourished. This is double the World Health Organisation’s 15 percent emergency threshold for acute malnutrition, which should trigger a humanitarian response.
“What is going on in the two areas in the Blue Nile and Nuba is prima facie evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially genocide … It’s Darfur plus plus,” added Kapila.
Kapila was one of the first in the United Nations to raise the alarm about ethnic cleansing in Darfur in 2004 when he worked as U.N. resident coordinator in Sudan. A commission of inquiry led to International Criminal Court indictments against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide.
TOO TIRED TO GO ON
Kapila said the situation in the border states had deteriorated significantly since his last visit one year earlier.
“Last year, the malnutrition rates were something in the region of 10 to 15 percent. This year, these malnutrition rates have roughly doubled,” he said.
“Last year… most people that I saw were able to have one meal a day. Today as we travelled, we found out that many people are only having one meal every three days.”
Another new feature of the crisis that Kapila observed was the large number of people on the road, trekking in search of food and safety.
“Some people – mothers, children on the road – had simply given up by the side of the road because they were just too tired to go on,” he said.
Kapila said 400,000 people had been displaced in South Kordofan – most living in caves where they can shelter from bombing by government planes – while another 230,000 were displaced in Blue Nile. An additional 170,000 have sought sanctuary as refugees in South Sudan.
“The situation is getting worse every day,” said Nagwa Konda, director of the Nuba Relief Rehabilitation and Development Organisation based in South Kordofan.
“People are starving. They are dying. They are living in the caves and they are really suffering.”
"We hope the African Union will act before it is too late," said Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail of Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan.
Activists have repeatedly called for a commission of inquiry into the war in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. But Khartoum has resisted international scrutiny.
The U.N. and other international humanitarian organisations are denied access to the area.
In June, the government agreed to a proposal by the AU, U.N. and Arab League to allow selected aid agencies to distribute aid in rebel-held areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. But it was never implemented.
Earlier this month, a senior U.N. humanitarian official warned that the humanitarian situation in the border states is worsening, amid reports that people there were starving to death and others were surviving on roots and leaves.
Khartoum insists there is no crisis in the region.
South Kordofan and Blue Nile borders South Sudan, which split away as an independent country in 2011 as part of a peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the Khartoum government. Many people in the border states had sided with the south during the civil war but were left on the Sudanese side of the border after the split.
Sudan's government accuses South Sudan of backing rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, charges denied by South Sudan.