September 14, 2005

Hunger poses big challenge for southern Sudan govt

By Katie Nguyen

AKUEM, Sudan (Reuters) Akol Deng Akol expected the end of
Sudan's 21-year civil war to end the hunger that usually takes
hold when the rains stop.

But eight months after peace was agreed between southern
rebels and the northern Khartoum government, Akol's home region
of Bahr el Ghazal is recovering from its worst food shortage
since a famine killed at least 60,000 people seven years ago.

Tackling seasonal cycles of hunger is a critical challenge
the yet-to-be-formed southern government will have to face as
it seeks to develop one of the poorest places on earth, where
about eight million people struggle to feed themselves.

The situation in southern Sudan is also a snapshot of the
difficult task of meeting the United Nation's millennium
development goal of cutting the number of those suffering from
hunger in half by 2015.

"We've been told about peace, that change will come, that
food would be brought by the government of southern Sudan,"
Akol said at an emergency feeding center where he had rushed
his one-year-old twins.

Sitting on grass mats, his chubby-cheeked babies no longer
show the thin limbs and sunken eyes they displayed a month ago
when they arrived.


Lush, green fields of the staple food, sorghum, have
sprouted around the mud tukuls close to the center, suggesting
the worst of the starvation may be over.

Health workers are feeding powdered milk and peanut paste
to 88 infants, compared to 250 children at the height of the
crisis in the dry months of May and June.

But aid workers warn that next year's dry season will
probably produce more cases of malnutrition among Bahr el
Ghazal's four million people.

"Next year it might be worse, because we have experienced
less rain than in previous years," said Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF) doctor Morpheus Causing. "People have started
to plant, but their crops are not really growing well."

Scarce rains caused last year's meager harvest in the
war-ravaged region where farming methods, like much of the rest
of southern Sudan, have not evolved for centuries.

Peace may have come to the south but villagers, unused to
political stability, are still growing sorghum in small plots
-- a habit acquired during the conflict when bombing raids
forced them to scatter into the bush and abandon their crops.

In the fields, the little they grow is fertilized with cow
dung and tilled with wooden hoes.

"There are food shortages because sometimes there is
drought, crops are destroyed by disease, there's no fertilizer,
no farming tools, like ox ploughs," said Akol, a father of

If the cycles of hunger are to end the new government will
have to focus on development and changing the mindset of a
generation that has known nothing but war, often relying on
food aid to fill the gap between harvests.