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INTERVIEW-Hungry eating leaves and singing war songs in Sudan

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 15 Feb 2012 13:44 GMT
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NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Experts warn that a quarter of a million Sudanese in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where the government is fighting rebels, could be on the brink of famine by March.

Ryan Boyette, a former aid worker from the United States who lives in the rebel-controlled town of Kauda in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, described what he is witnessing.


What are people eating in the rebel-controlled Nuba Mountains?

There were some communities during the rainy season that did plant and were able to get a fairly decent harvest because the frontline wasn’t very close to where they were.

There are some regions that were badly hit. I would say that Buram, which is the southernmost locality in Southern Kordofan, has been hit the worst. They are still bombing every single day there. I was there just last week.

People are sharing what food they have with each other. There are not a variety of foods. It might just be sorghum. So you are seeing some malnourishment.

In some places they are eating wild food. In Buram, they will collect leaves from certain trees that they know are edible. They will collect berries.

If there is going to be a famine, it’s going to hit very fast and very hard. You are not going to see it gradually build up because of this sharing attitude.


Do you think that half a million people will cross into South Sudan as the United Nations fears?

I just visited a mountain that had more than a thousand IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) on it, mainly women and children.

They had absolutely nothing. They had been there for two months. They are living in this mountain, literally under rocks, in caves. Women are giving birth just on these rocks.

They are very dirty. They are sick. They don’t have any soap to wash their clothes, to wash their kids, to wash their bodies, to wash their dishes. They only have one pair of clothes that they have on.

I asked them why they were not going to Yida (refugee camp across the border in South Sudan).  They said: “We don’t know that place. We have lived here our whole lives. It’s better for us to die here than to go to another place and die in another place.”

The people are very resilient and really do not want to go.


Is any aid coming into the Nuba Mountains?

Just after it (the war) started, there were small humanitarian fights coming in. But it was just a drop in the bucket and they didn’t last for long. I think there were threats from the northern government.


Would things improve if Khartoum allowed international agencies to deliver aid?

Even if they do, I don’t think that it would work. In the last war, the north had set up peace camps, which were basically IDP camps within Nuba.

People were starving. NGOs (non-governmental organisations) pushed food through the north. The north used that food to bring people where they wanted them, in towns the north was controlling. This was where most of the rapes, beatings, torturing occurred in the last war.

So I don’t think the people of Nuba would accept it. I don’t think that they would trust it even if they did allow aid to come in from the north.


Is this war likely to end any time soon?

Unless there is fundamental change in the government and real representation for the people, I think that this fight will go on for a long time.

There are even little children here who sing songs. They talk about how the Antonov is coming to bomb them. There is even one song that says: “What’s wrong with Nuba that Omar Bashir wants to kill us? What has Nuba done?”

Unless there is a huge change, I think there is another generation of children who are going to grow up to have hatred for this regime.

(Editing by Julie Mollins)

RELATED ANALYSIS: Looming famine in Sudan?

RELATED FACTBOX: Famine and humanitarian aid in Sudan

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