Sudan's 5 year-old civil war is likely to have long-lasting consequences far more damaging than its current devastation, according to Sudanese and foreign analysts who follow the situation closely. While the conflict has displaced 2 million civilians and contributed to the starvation of at least 250,000 others since 1983, it has the greater potential of ``laying waste the possibilities of development in the future,'' says Jon Tinker, president of the Panos Institute, a private information and policy studies group in London.
As the Sudanese government considers a cease-fire with the southern-based rebels it has been fighting since May 1983, two Western research organizations are distributing information here and abroad on the damaging effects of the conflict. They say they hope to help rally support here and abroad for an end to the war.
The new findings state that almost all schools and health programs in the rural south of Sudan are now closed. Virtually all development efforts in that area have been halted. And as men continue to flee their homes to escape recruitment by the Army or by rebels, more and more women have found themselves heads of families, struggling to raise and feed their children. Many have been sexually abused by combatants.
``Talking about the costs of the war is very helpful in addressing the issue of peace,'' Mr. Tinker says. ``For most people in Sudan, outside the south, the war has been a totally unknown war.''
``If we focus on the consequences of Sudan's war, there may be support for galvanizing peace initiatives,'' says John Prendergast, of the Coalition for Peace in the Horn of Africa, which is helping to distribute the new information.
The Panos Institute last week organized a seminar for journalists here, at which it presented Sudanese who had conducted this research. A number of government officials, including some Cabinet ministers and Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, also spoke.
``War Wounds: Sudanese People Report on Their War,'' a Panos publication, contains much of the new research on human and development costs of the war. It presents a grim portrait of the south. The findings include:
Malnutrition is widespread, especially among children under 12.
Nearly one out of every five children dies before the age of one - one of the highest infant mortality rates in Africa.
Virtually every child under age five in the rebel-surrounded town of Aweil died this summer during a measles epidemic. The fighting has halted inoculation programs in such towns.
Widowed or abandoned, and unable to make a living alone, many women have fled their villages with their children.
Of those remaining in their villages, many have been raped by passing military or rebel troops, says Rose Lisok Paulino, a Sudanese government official working in the south. Once a woman is abused in this way, most southern men would not marry her, which often forces the woman to become a prostitute in order to survive, Ms. Paulino says.
Many people, especially women and children, have been gravely injured or killed by land mines laid around the main southern cities and towns by both the military and the SPLA rebels.
Herds have been severely depleted by a lack of vaccination programs for several years. Cattle are the main source of livelihood for many southerners, and are also used as payment for brides in Sudan. Many planned marriages have been postponed due to this shortage of cattle, says Samuel Gonda, a southern veterinarian.
The Sudanese government's consideration of a cease-fire accord drafted last month continued to be set back by emergency security measures in the capital yesterday following a failed coup attempt. The government has confirmed reports that it thwarted an effort to overthrow the prime minister on Dec. 17 and arrested 25 civilians and retired soldiers.
A march planned for yesterday, which was intended to pressure the government into accepting the cease-fire was called off for security reasons. But civilians have promised further disobedience on Dec. 31 if progress is not made.