I just arrived in Juba, South Sudan three weeks ahead of the anniversary of the country’s independence from Sudan. There will be plenty written about the one-year anniversary of the world’s newest nation, but I’m here to find out more on what is shaping up to be one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world.
Last time I was in South Sudan I visited Yida camp, which was home to the largest influx of refugees from Sudan, mainly those fleeing fighting and lack of food in the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan. This time I will attempt to travel to the refugee camps for people that have been forced to flee Sudan’s Blue Nile State.
Already, the news I am hearing is worrisome. The numbers are alarming. In a little over a year, some half a million people have been displaced from South Kordofan and Blue Nile since fighting with rebels began and since the Sudanese regime imposed policies directly affecting the civilian population. Over 165,000 have fled into South Sudan. The number of people seeking refuge in Yida has more than doubled since I was there in January, reaching close to 60,000 with over 600 people (and some days top 1,000) arriving each day in recent weeks. The camps near the border of Blue Nile state were already facing a strain on water availability before being inundated with another 35,000 new refugees in the past several weeks.
It is difficult to estimate the malnutrition rates inside South Kordofan and Blue Nile because the government of Sudan continues to block access to international humanitarian workers to the two areas. While much of the targeted population in Blue Nile has already fled to camps in South Sudan, many more Nuba remain hiding in caves in South Kordofan. Nearly 10% of the population in the camps is experiencing general acute malnutrition (nearly 11% for children under five according to one of the groups providing aid in the camp), a rough indicator of what the inaccessible populations might be facing.
But it is not the current numbers and malnutrition rates themselves that are the most troubling. As bad as they are, they are not yet at famine levels. Due to high levels of global food insecurity, they are actually on par (or even better) than other parts of the world including parts of South Sudan. Unlike other areas experiencing great food insecurity, which can be addressed by the international community, there is no prospect for improvement in South Kordofan and Blue Nike as long as the nefarious policies of the Government of Sudan continue.
The reality is that South Kordofan and Blue Nile are largely man-made disasters, a result of the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians that prevented the planting of crops and the purposeful blocking of humanitarian aid to the worst affected areas. The Sudanese regime is effectively using food as a weapon of war. The onset of the rainy season, with washed out roads and the threat of waterborne disease, will only make matters worse.
In the days ahead I will seek to find out more about the current situation in the camps. I will speak with the people who have been forced to flee the two areas being ravaged by the policies of the Sudanese regime. I will bring back the stories of the people most affected so we collectively as a movement against genocide and mass atrocities can shine a spotlight on this crisis and move our government into action.