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International Relief Operation Saves Victims of Famine, Drought

June 9, 1991

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ International food donations have temporarily averted famine in most of Sudan, but millions of people still are hungry and more help is needed, a Western diplomat said Sunday.

The diplomat, who is based in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, said also that better-than-average rainfall has been reported in western Sudan since May.

That means the 2-year-old cycle of drought make have been broken and will not add to hunger problems next year, he said in a telephone interview from Khartoum. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

″We have to wait until early July and get information about rainfall all over the country to see whether the drought is really over or not,″ the diplomat said. ″But all things considered, the picture is a bit brighter.″

″The message to send out now is that the international relief operation has saved lives and prevented many deaths already but that there are still problems,″ he said.

But a crisis still exists along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border.

Tens of thousands of hungry Sudanese are fleeing back to their homeland from refugee camps in western Ethiopia as a result of the surge in fighting in Ethiopia in recent weeks, the top U.S. aid official said last week.

″We have a serious problem on our hands,″ Andrew Natsios, head of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, said in Washington.

He said the situation worsened in recent days because of Sudanese bombing attacks on the fleeing refugees, most of whom sympathize with rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983, demanding greater autonomy and economic reforms in the south.

The United States had asked the Sudanese to stop the bombing, Natsios said.

The Western diplomat said the United States, Britain, European Community countries and other doners had sent 330,000 tons of relief aid to feed the Sudanese, and that all but 55,000 tons had been distributed. Another 220,000 tons have been pledged.

The United Nations had said that up to 11 million of Sudan’s 25 million people were threatened by famine.

Famine and drought have hung over nearly the entire country. Sudan’s military government initially refused to acknowledge the crisis or help with an emergency relief operation.

World Food Program spokesman Paul Mitchell said in Rome that in May, an average of eight people were dying of hunger every day in one Sudanese town. Tens of thousands of people had gathered in Sodiri, 250 miles southwest of Khartoum, in search of food.

The diplomat said that relief food has reached almost all of the areas hit hardest by the famine.

″The main pockets of concern are OK for now,″ he said. ″It turned out to be a better logistical situation that we expected. But there are still major constraints. The weather. Fuel and trucks remain in great shortage. The money supply.″

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