Nairobi, Kenya — Starvation Threatens in Sudan Deaths by starvation in Sudan in the months ahead are likely to far outnumber casualties in the Gulf war, according to international relief officials.
``Very likely we'll see hundreds of thousands die in Sudan,'' says Frederick Machmer, director of the Sudan office of the US Agency for International Development. ``Those deaths will increase, the longer we delay'' in getting food to the Sudanese.
James Grant, worldwide director of the United Nations Children's Fund, sees ``the threat of a major disaster in the months immediately ahead'' in Sudan. He points out that most of the needy are in government-controlled areas, though severe hunger persists in civil war zones in the south.
At least 9 million people need emergency food in Sudan in 1991 due primarily to drought, according to estimates.
Western diplomats and relief officials blame Sudan's government for being slow to recognize the emergency and to act.
Sudanese officials deny the accusations. ``The government is doing its best to help,'' says Dr. Abdellatif Abdelhamid, Sudan's ambassador to Kenya.
He agreed with Western estimates of a 1 million ton food shortage this year, adding that Sudan welcomes international help. Dr. Abdelhamid said criticism of Sudan amounted to veiled attacks on Sudan's verbal support of Iraq.
Donors blame the government for delays, while the government accuses donors of only wanting to operate on their own terms. The end result is that only a trickle of emergency food is arriving in Sudan and being distributed, even though signs of an impending disaster were clear nearly six months ago.
The main stumbling blocks in the way of rapid and massive relief are these:
Sudan's government insists on registration of all international relief agencies, but registration scheduled for February was postponed to March.
The government insists on controlling who will receive food. Donors want to be sure it doesn't go to the military, the militias, or middle-class urban residents backing the government.
Donors must pay for trucking of food, which is very costly because Sudan insists they must use a currency exchange rate more than four times below the rate used for commercial imports.
An international relief official just back from Western Sudan's Kordofan region says he did not see starvation yet, but adds that the West has underestimated the ability of the Sudanese to cope. Traditional means of surving a drought involve selling livestock, eating wild fruits and leaves, and moving to find work or food.
US officials say the crisis is likely to come in July, a few months before the next harvest, when livestock and food supplies run out. Getting food from abroad to rural areas takes months, and already deliveries are more than two months behind schedule.
Neither Western nor Sudanese officials have given up trying to reconcile differences. Sudan and the UN signed an agreement in January on general terms for drought relief, and UN and US officials see it as a confirmation by both sides on the need to try to avoid a disaster.
Other regions facing famine
Ethiopia: Once again the north is suffering from drought, requiring nearly 1 million tons of relief food in 1991. The government and rebels have agreed to allow food to pass through the northern port of Massawa to rebel-encircled Asmara, capital of Eritrea, as well as other rebel and government areas. Additional food is reaching the north by road, but recently-renewed fighting could interfere with these deliveries.
Angola: Some starvation is already reported. The UN is trying to establish ``peace corridors'' to get food to nearly 2 million people, many of them in war zones.
Mozambique: Nearly 2 million displaced persons and returning refugees face critical food shortages. Most food needs are covered by donor pledges, but deliveries are slow.
Liberia: US Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts calls this ``one of the most critical and neglected humanitarian emergencies in the world today.'' He says some 1.2 million Liberians who fled the the civil war and now need help to survive.
Somalia: Following a rebel victory in January that ended the civil war, millions need food and other emergency aid.
Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania: Drought has left these desert countries in need of relief food.