Sudan

Dateline ACT Sudan 4/99: The Bahr el Ghazal famine: One year on...

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By Victor Lugala
Lietuhom, Southern Sudan, December 1999

"I cannot go to the dancing arena
Because famine has weakened my legs

Famine is spearing people with big spears
It cuts peoples necks with pangas...."

More than one year after the worst famine in Bahr el Ghazal in which people and domestic animals died in great numbers, the survivors can only remember their loved ones by expressing their melting moods with songs of melancholy.

The death toll inflicted by the famine out numbered casualties killed by the war within that short span of about eight months. Apart from the funeral songs, skulls and bones of the unburied bodies bear testimony to the vagaries of the famine with Biblical proportions.

That was a tragedy which people in Lietuhom, one of the villages in Bahr el Ghazal which was hard hit are learning to come out of it with difficulty. Some families were wiped out completely. The indelible and horrific memory is hard to forget because it is haunting.

"Eating leaves has stained peoples teeth
People no longer brush teeth
Because they are subdued by famine...."

Akol Aciek Akol the song composer sits in the market place at Lietuhom to lament the tragedy. Passers by stop to listen in awe. In Lietuhom the first victim to succumb to the famine was Machau Deng, then followed by children, women, men at an average of six per day. Among those who ran away some died on the way trekking to an unknown destination. The dead were left exposed to the vultures.

"The death toll was unimaginable, after a while nobody buried the dead any more. Relatives of the dead moved away leaving the dead unburied because they had no energy for digging graves. Nobody wept for the dead because it seemed everybody's days were numbered", said Marko Aketh Mayom, an aid worker in Lietnhom. He lost his paternal uncle to the famine.

The aftermath of the famine has taught the people at Lietnhom to tighten their belts by waging an economic war of never to deplete seeds for planting the next season.

Children born during the famine, and who managed to survive by the will of God, have been named Chok (for boys) and Achok (for girls). Chok in Dinka means famine. Others also have been named Nyariak which means conflict or war, the main cause of famine and other evils.

In its wake the famine has created orphans and widows who have become a liability in some households. It is however sanctioned by Dinka tradition for male relatives to inherit widows. Some young men have inherited more than one widow.

In addition to his legal wife, Martin Ring, a 23-year-old man has inherited two of his uncles' wives, with nine children in his care.

According to Dinka tradition, the children born from the inherited widows are named after and belong to the dead husband.

Most of the men who have inherited the widows of their dead relatives look miserable, thin and weak. They have to double or triple their efforts to meet the demands of the large family. They believe that it is their duty to extend life in the dead relatives' families by bearing children on their behalf. Is this the best way they can appease the dead relatives?

Lonely orphan finds solace in school

By Victor Lugala

Southern Sudan, December 1999

Nine-year-old Manut Lungar is the only survivor of his family. His parents and eight siblings were wiped out by last year's devastating famine in Bahr el Ghazal.

It was the hand of chance which rescued him so that he could tell his own story.

Lungar has witnessed mass death. His quiet demeanor silently bespeak of the trauma that is eating him. He was kidnapped by the late Kerubino Kuanyin Bol's men from the village of Warakony in Lietnhom in 1997 or thereabouts. Kerubino Kuanyin Bol was a rebel commander who changes sides in the war several times. Kerubino Kuanyin Bol was killed by a rival commander earlier this year.

Lungar's group was forced to move in the bush for days until they arrived Tonj. On the way, Kerubino's men plundered villages and took away cattle and dura (sorghum).

"There was plenty of food in Kerubino's camp but I was not happy at all because I wanted to be with my parents and siblings," Lungar recalls.

While his captors were feasting on stolen food, starvation was already at the doorsteps of the people of Bahr el Ghazal. The situation grew from bad to worse as famine began to claim people's lives. The death toll rose by the day.

Finally Lungar was set free. He made the homeward journey in the company of other people who were also captured by Kerubino's men. When he arrived the village he broke into tears, for what was once a village was reduced to ashes. That was the first shock. What he could not believe until today was that he had no home to go to. His father, mother and eight siblings were robbed by the famine. He had nothing to inherit from his dead parents. The cattle they had were stolen by bandits.

He along with four other orphans in Lietnhom are being taken care of by the local Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA), the humanitarian wing of the SPLM/A.

Master Lungar now goes to Lietnhom Primary School. He says of school: "I chose school as my mother and father." What does Lungar want to do in the future when he finishes school? "I do not know the future. My problem now is loneliness as an orphan and hunger... I cannot predict my future because I may also die like my family members," he says.

Victor Lugala is the Press Officer with ACT member, New Sudan Council of Churches.

ACT members are working against hunger and famine in several parts of Bahr el Ghazal but not in Lietuhom. The current ACT appeal for food security in Bahr al Ghazal is for US $ 1.2 million of which about 75% is now secured. A further appeal for approx. US $ 600,000 for assistance to people in the government controlled town of Wau will be isued within days.

For further information please contact:
Nils Carstensen (mobile ++ 41 79 358 3171).
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org

ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.

The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland.