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Sudan’s Troubles

July 30, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT
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CHARLES KRAUSE: Aid officials call the Sudan a complex emergency, two years of devastating drought coupled with fifteen years of equally deadly civil war. The fighting is between Christian and Animus rebels to the south, and the Sudan’s Islamic government based in Khartoum to the north.

Both the government and the rebels have reportedly used food as a weapon, hoping to gain military advantage by destroying crops and disrupting aid shipments to starving civilians. A million and a half people are believed to have died in the Sudan since the fighting began in 1983. And hundreds and thousands more are currently threatened. At the moment both sides have agreed to a short cease-fire so food shipments can be delivered. Tim Ewart of Independent Television News filed this report on the growing crisis.

TIM EWART: Abwol Boll is four and her best white dress is caked with mud. Abwol’s parents were killed by soldiers but she was found under a tree, just one of the Sudan’s lost children. She is one of many. There are 300 in this one compound alone. Each has a terrifying past and a future filled with uncertainty. They are the victims of civil war and starvation. Alouette and her sister Awing fled gunmen who killed their mother in a town 60 miles away. They’ve been walking for days.

ALOUETTE: (speaking through interpreter) We have nothing to dream about. We are just coming here to look for food and clothes.

TIM EWART: Deng, who is eight, was thrown out by his aunt when the food ran out. “All I feel is sadness,” he says. There is food for these children now, more than some have ever known–two meals a day in a place where anything to eat is a luxury. Aid worker Betty Kiden, Sudanese herself, decides who can stay and who must be turned away. She says starvation is forcing more and more parents to abandon their children.

BETTY KIDEN, Aid Worker: Some even abandon their children and they leave alone because they really didn’t want to see their children dying–so the only way is to leave their children to die alone—and they also walk away and die in their own way.

TIM EWART: In another compound not far away, the awful evidence of a crisis that is getting steadily worse. Emergency feeding centers like this are under increasing pressure across southern Sudan. Here in the village of Mapel nine children have died within the past week. If the latest cease-fire holds, the tide could be turned, but it will make little difference here.

And in one more cruel twist of irony there is now rain—too late to save what is expected to be another wretched harvest, but enough to add to the misery of those who are homeless, abandoned, and lost. In normal times orphaned children here could expect to be adopted by another family.

But times in southern Sudan are not normal. Parents now can’t feed their own children, let alone take in any more. There is hope that some of these children will be reunited with relatives. But it seems a forlorn one. Abwol Boll’s four short years have brought only suffering, and it’s difficult to see how the years ahead can hold out the promise of anything much better.