As If Widespread Conflict Isn’t Enough, Now Food and Price Challenges Plague South Sudan

A local farmer harvests sorghum. (Photo Courtesy Fred Noy/UN Photo)

A local farmer harvests sorghum. (Photo Courtesy Fred Noy/UN Photo)

Thousands of civilians have been displaced following ground clashes between the SPLA and the SAF and aerial bombings by Sudan. As if that wasn’t enough despair, the rising fighting has more than doubled the price of basic commodities and food for Southern Sudanese living in the areas of Unity, Upper Nile, Northern and Western Bahr al Ghazal states. For the last month, traders who usually import foodstuffs from Southern Kordofan in Sudan to South Sudan have been victims of violence en route.

“A 20 litre jerry can of cooking oil rose from 20 to 40 dollars in the last two weeks,” said Simon Kenyi, a teacher in Bentiu.

The official death toll from the conflict is not known, however, but Unity State Governor Taban Deng Guy said this week that 75 people had died in aerial bombardments in his state alone.

On top of that, Sudanese authorities have seized and impounded more than 60 vehicles carrying food across the border to South Sudan, Sudanese justice minister, Mohammed Boshara Dosa, said on Thursday while inspecting White Nile State. He warned that Khartoum intends to rigidly enforce a ban on smuggling to the southern neighbor and that the seizure is meant to signal the fact that Khartoum considers smuggling of food to South Sudan as “a crime tantamount to supplying the enemy with arms.”

To top it all off, on Thursday the UN decided to reduce the number of soldiers and police in the joint UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) by 4,000, citing improved security across parts of Darfur. However this is incredibly far from reality and I cannot believe this option was even mentioned when UNAMID confirmed bombings taking place in North Darfur at the beginning of this month. Displaced and refugee activists told Radio Dabanga ‘improved security in parts of Darfur’ is inaccurate and the daily rapes, looting, murder and displacement of civilians along with impunity for perpetrators and militants continue to terrorize them with no end in sight.

The coordinator of camps in North Darfur, Umda Ahmed Ateem described the humanitarian situation in the camps for internally displaced people at the very least as ‘disastrous’, stating that famine, the impune rule of government militia, murder, intimidation of civilians and rape as a weapon are widespread and part of everyday life. He said it is shameful that the UN security council has not implemented any of the 17 resolutions drafted on Darfur.

It’s frustrating and difficult to understand how and why there is a disconnect between what is being done and what thousands of displaced, starving, and devastated civilians need.

Darfur Sexual Abuse Unit Established

Darfur peacekeeping mission UNAMID plans to create a unit which will be “responsible for monitoring and reporting on investigations of crimes committed against women and children”.

UNAMID hopes that the unit will aid in “bringing justice to the victims”.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war in Darfur – physically and emotionally scarring countless innocent females. Some cases are reported. However, many are not.

Protecting Darfur’s Women

Photograph by Stop Genocide Now

African Union – UN hybrid peacekeeping mission UNAMID has teamed up with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to push a new initiative aimed at empowering the women of Darfur.

Efforts will go towards achieving gender equality – both politically and economically – and putting an end to sexual and gender-based violence.

It is important for us to note that women empowerment in Darfur also means girl empowerment as several of the victims of rapes, beatings, and discrimination have yet to even reach adulthood.

Fire at UNAMID Headquarters

Last night, a fire broke out at UNAMID’s headquarters in Darfur.

No injuries were reported. However, damages to the peacekeeping mission’s communication equipment, offices, and laboratory total an estimated $5 million.

An investigation will be held to determine whether the fire was the result of a short circuit or of something else. Arson is not suspected.

UNAMID Delivers Exams to Darfur Schools

News coming out of Darfur has been pretty dire recently (and rightly so given the current situation). With story after story of violence and suffering, it is hard to imagine that any “good” is taking place in the region.

However, there is “good” in Darfur. Consider this –

Today, UNAMID airlifted examination supplies to various secondary schools located in North Darfur. The supplies will be used for national certificate examinations which are held throughout the country.

Nevertheless, it is highly likely that the schools receiving the supplies are lacking resources of another kind. It is also highly likely that the students attending the schools are lacking appropriate nutrition, shelter, and medical care. How exactly is one supposed to perform well on an exam with one’s survival in question?

So, yes, there is “good” in Darfur. Just not nearly enough.

Crime plagues lives of Darfur refugees

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra joined a Unamid team on patrol in South Darfur and sent this special report.

In the meantime, Gabriel Stauring, Katie-Jay Scott, Yuen-Lin Tan from Stop Genocide Now are on their way to the refugee camps on the Chad – Sudan border.  Here is their latest report.

Darfur Peacekeepers Shot

Four UNAMID peacekeepers operating in Darfur were shot yesterday by “unknown armed men”.

The number of attacks against UNAMID peacekeepers in 2009 now exceeds that for 2008 – and it’s only March!

This was the first incident since last week’s ICC indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Khartoum has announced that it is allowing all non-essential embassy staff to leave Sudan.