Sudan: ‘To join the enemy – or to starve’
Civilians have largely exhausted food stocks in Dalami Locality in north-central South Kordofan as the region plunges deeper into crisis. Slender green tree leaves boiled to a mush are counting for meals here in the rocky hills that rise abruptly from the vast Sudanic plain.
Displaced people and villagers from the host community in interviews with Radio Tamazuj this week said that for the second planting season in a row they are unable to return to their landholdings in the plains and can live and cultivate only in the fortress-like hills, with the main concentration of people living on Mount Tungoli.
“The airplanes bomb villages so now all of the people are staying in the hills. Because the airplanes look for any movement and they bomb right away… besides that there are also dismissed government soldiers. Janjaweed and whatnot. People are afraid of them,” said Ibrahim Abushowq Hussein, relief coordinator in the SPLM-held parts of the locality.
Dalami town lies on a plain nearly 100 km north of Kauda beneath Mount Tungoli and neighbouring peaks. The humanitarian situation for the hill-dwellers is near the point of catastrophe with some families going days without eating anything but leaves and wild fruits. Because of the lack of food there are more deaths among children and the elderly.
Natives of South Kordofan’s rebel-held areas number about 50,000 people. Refugees from other parts of the state – what the UN terms ‘internally displaced persons’ or ‘IDPs’ – number 150,000 to 200,000.
The host population faces “food consumption gaps with high or above usual levels of acute malnutrition,” according to Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a project funded by the US Agency for International Development. The IDPs are worse off: “They face heavy asset losses, large food consumption gaps, very high levels of acute malnutrition, and excess mortality.”
USAID’s famine watchdog on 5 July classified Dalami and other SPLM-N areas of South Kordofan as a 'phase 4' emergency, one step below the agency’s most dire alert level, catastrophe/famine. “Between now and August, food security is expected to deteriorate as food prices peak, food stocks are exhausted or drawn to a minimum among both IDPs and the host population, and limitations on trade, movement, and humanitarian assistance continue,” reported the agency.
Life in Dalami
The Dalami area’s relief coordinator estimated that there are 1,600 families and 51,000 people staying in Dalami Administrative Unit with the largest concentration of them around Mount Tungoli. They are served by a rural health clinic in Tujor that offers some free medicines. Few other services are available. Displaced people live in caves and under trees along the slopes of the mountain. In this time of heavy rains and hunger, many diseases have broken out especially among the children and elderly. Most people do not have enough money to buy goods such as salt, which costs two pounds for a small bag, and there are no work opportunities.
Tungoli’s influx of newcomers since 2011 has stressed the water supply. Women wrapped in light dresses in bright oranges and blues fetch water from a hand-pump in Tungoli, each reserving a place with her own jerrycan. As many as 100 grey and yellow jerrycans stretch out in an orderly queue. The shortage would be much worse in the dry season.
Amzuwela Khaboush Koum, a woman at the water point, says that she fled to Tungoli from her home in Dalami in June 2011: “I don't know the exact number of the people coming from Dalami because some of them scattered on our way, some are in Nyongore, others in Alsabat. When we first came here in Tungoli there was lot of air bombing which forced us to climb the mountains to protect ourselves. Now we are safe inside these caves, and the air bombing is continuing but in areas outside Tungoli.”
The displaced population includes not only refuge-seekers from Dalami but also from neighbouring localities Habila and Rashad. They have opted not to travel onward to Yida Refugee Camp in South Sudan: the journey would be too long and perilous for the elderly and children, and the people prefer to stay closer to their land.
In Sabat area more than ten villages are facing bad humanitarian conditions amid reports of tension between host communities and the 400 families of displaced people. Refugees have complained that there are no health services and that the host community are taking what little aid is arriving for the refugees. They have allegedly excluded refugees from participating in distributions of aid materiel. Sources in the area also complained that there is continuous cattle raiding from Arab militias based in government-controlled areas. They elaborated that some thieves from the Kawalib tribe are also active in SPLA-held areas.
‘People want to farm’
Ustaza Jabir Komi, a women’s leader from Dalami now living in Tungoli, says that small children can’t be sent to fetch water because of fear of warplanes: “People want to go farm and they want to return to their homes to improve the situation with regard to water and food. Those are our problems. And we don’t have any other water source, this is it,” she says.
Women are also worried about the disruption the war has caused to their children’s education. Refugees in Sabit can’t afford to send their children to the schools, which are run by SPLM-N’s civil administration. “The schools here charge 50 pounds for one child per year so most of the children here do not go to school,” says Amzuwela.
But the main burden is the immediate concern of nutrition. “We have to go down from the mountain to bring water and food from the market but the prices here are high,” she adds.
USAID’s famine report says that displaced people living in areas under the government’s control “have better access to markets, labor opportunities, and humanitarian assistance.” Dalami town serves as council seat for the locality and remains under government control. Sudan’s state news agency SUNA reported Monday that the town recently received humanitarian assistance including foodstuffs. The commissioner Hassan Humada said that the situation in the locality is stable and that the aid delivered in to his jurisdiction would last for three months.
With UN-funded food distributions underway in government-held towns and the SPLM/A areas still cut off, the less the hills appear a haven and the more a trap. If relief does not arrive within the next month the looming catastrophe will really hit, displaced people and citizens of Dalami told Radio Tamazuj. They see but two options before them: “Either to join the areas where there are arrests and killings – or to starve.”
(By Radio Tamazuj Reporter)
Photo by Radio Tamazuj: A woman in Jebel Tungoli weak from hunger, July 2012. Additional photos in the gallery below. In the detailed map Jebel Tungoli is shown circled in red and Dalami town in blue