Death Is an Everyday Occurrence for Sudan's Displaced Thousands
Oct. 15, 1988
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ Relief workers trying to stop famine deaths in the southwest spoke Saturday of feeding refugees so wretched they can't afford clothing and live in huts fashioned from sticks and scrub undergrowth.
Death from starvation is an everyday occurrence in the refugee camps, although the toll has tapered off to 10 daily from 80 a day in July and August, the worst months in a summer that some relief officials say took up to 10,000 lives.
The tiny town of Abyei, 500 miles southwest of Khartoum, has become a gathering place for people dispossessed in a bitter civil war that is largely ignored by the world.
Just beyond the reach of the fighting, it also became the target of a U.S.-financed supply mission aiming to airlift 90 tons of food in a 10-day period that began Thursday.
''The people in Abyei are totally emaciated,'' said Cole Dodge, Khartoum representative of UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund.
''There are old people, women and children, a few wearing ragged, short and wide shifts, while the rest are naked. They live in African grass-and-stick huts, huddled together,'' he said.
Dodge said 820,000 people have fled the war into camps or other havens in Sudan or neighboring Ethiopia. Of those, 65,000 are receiving relief in the western regions of Darfur and southern Kordofan, where Abyei is located.
Twin-engine Cessna planes fly three flights daily from the arid town because local air-charter companies have no larger cargo planes available and Abyei's tiny airfield can hardly handle them.
''(Abyei) has no more than a dozen or 15 permanent structures, including the military headquarters, the jail, the relief center and the school,'' said Dodge, who returned to the capital Friday from Abyei.
Neither the Americans nor others in the project have disclosed the cost of the supply mission, but Dodge said UNICEF will pump $500,000 worth of goods into Abyei in the next six months.
The Sudanese Red Crescent says Abyei's population normally is 10,000, but the refugees had swelled it to 40,000. Dodge estimated 15,000 to 20,000 live there now.
UNICEF said food is so short on Abyei's open market that the price of a 198-pound bag of sorghum, the Sudanese staple, has risen from $16 to $166 in two months. The refugees, most of whom abandoned all their belongings to find safety, cannot buy any.
Officials of Western relief organizations, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated 10,000 people perished from starvation and the lack of medical care during the summer and continue killing about 10 people a day in the Abyei area.
Officials estimate that twice that number in the region and further south receive no help because weather and road conditions, activity of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army or fighting between the rebels and the government make it impossible to reach them.
The Liberation Army, fighting for economic and political reforms since 1983, claims to control 90 percent of the southern countryside. A key demand is autonomy for the Christian and animist African south from the Moslem- dominated government in the north.
The government earlier expelled several Western relief agencies for allegedly working with the rebels in order to get supplies to stranded southerners.
Relief food and medicines last reached Abyei in June, before Prime Minister Sadek Mahdi's government halted relief operations during the rainy season.
Southern rebels step up their activities during the rainy season, forcing more displaced people on the road and into camps in places like Abyei.
Even for those who stayed and farmed, Dodge said, record rains flooded an area the size of Nevade and ruined their small sorghum crops.
Mahdi's government gave the U.S. Agency for International Development permission to set up the Abyei relief operation after Sudanese officials visited there last week with U.S. and U.N. representatives.