Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Africa Update

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Africa Update

Article excerpt

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. …

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