WAR is on the horizon again in the Sudan. And war in this shattered region means massive starvation. For the past seven months, a tenuous ceasefire has held between two successive Sudanese governments and the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). In an unprecedented operation while the truce has been in effect, the combatants have allowed at least 100,000 tons of emergency food and medicine to be moved relatively freely into areas of contention in the south.
Unfortunately, food and medicine were not the only things that were moved. Both the government and the SPLA have used the respite from their six-year war to rearm. If relations between the two parties remain on their present course of fundamental disagreement over the issues of Islamic law, political power-sharing and local control over resources, war soon will resume with tragic consequences.
The victims in this bitter war of attrition have mainly been civilians killed by the bullet of hunger. During the fighting, food was systematically denied, and nearly 3 million internally displaced civilians were held hostage to the military strategies of the SPLA and the government. It is likely that civilians will again be victimized.
Control over access to food is a life or death matter in southern Sudan. Opportunities abound for agricultural self-sufficiency in many non-contested areas of the south. It is now time for the relief community, which has responded so generously to save hundreds of thousands of Sudanese lives, to begin building into their relief programs components that would help people save themselves.
In our travels throughout government, and SPLA-held territory in southern Sudan last month, one message consistently arose from displaced families, non-government organization representatives, and church leaders: Self-reliance is one way to protect civilians from the effects of war. Some of their suggestions:
1.There are many areas firmly controlled by the SPLA, which the government cannot contest. These areas should be provided with seeds and tools for the rainy season next year. Agencies should not wait to begin planning this.
2.UNICEF was successful last year in negotiating an agreement to open up ``safe passage corridors'' for the movement of relief supplies in zones of war. This year, donors should press for the next step, the establishment of ``safe planting zones,'' areas of sanctuary to which people could move freely and farm. Joseph Barachi of the Sudan Council of Churches proposes that these areas be administered by a neutral body such as the International Committee for the Red Cross, in order to avoid the appearance of civilians taking sides.
3.In many areas, agriculture is further inhibited by droughts and floods. Elementary forms of water management need to be instituted. The provision of small water pumps, in conjunction with food-for-work programs for digging irrigation canals and constructing maintainable dams, would help minimize the effects of the climate. Ascheuil Malith Bamggol, chairman of the Agricultural Division of the SPLA's Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA), has developed a series of proposals which funding agencies should take seriously.
4.Although many children have already lost up to six years of schooling as a result of the war, an educationally lost generation of boys and girls is still an avoidable tragedy. International donor organizations need to develop partnerships with the indigenous local organizations such as Sudanaid, Sudan Red Crescent, Sudan Council of Churches, and the SRRA to help develop and launch a literacy campaign for the internally displaced population.
The United States has been the largest provider of military and economic aid to Sudan. Consequently, the US bears a grave responsibility for the discriminatory policies of the Sudanese governments which perpetuate war. But the Bush administration must not compound past policy errors by releasing further assistance to the Islamic fundamentalist military regime in Khartoum. As Bona Malwal, editor of the banned Sudan Times paper, told us, ``It is dead wrong to think that new money will influence this government for positive policy change.''
Amendment 513 of the Foreign Assistance Act cuts off military and economic aid when a democratically elected government is overthrown by a military coup, as was the case in Sudan on June 30. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen should stop contemplating a presidential waiver of this law.
Instead, the US should define a policy which supports a peaceful resolution. Such a policy would prohibit all military and economic aid until a peace agreement is implemented, and would press the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and Egypt to do the same.
Creativity is needed for the provision of rehabilitation assistance in situations of long-term conflict. Congressional colleagues of the late Rep. Mickey Leland, who died in a plane crash on his way to visit Sudanese refugees, should take this opportunity to honor his memory by increasing the resources and capacity of the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to respond more flexibly and with a longer-term commitment to situations such as southern Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia, where rehabilitation is relief.
For now, the US should confine itself to caring for the victims of war. ``Help must be very well targeted,'' Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba warned in an interview last month, ``or it will kill people.''