Drought emergency intervention Appeal (17/96)

Originally published


The Red Sea Hills region, located in north-eastern Sudan, is susceptible to chronic drought. Years of relief food assistance have affected the traditional coping mechanisms of this agro-pastoralist population and have created a level of dependency on external aid. The current deterioration of food security in Red Sea Hills became evident in March 1996 when the price of sorghum began to increase sharply and the Sudanese Red Crescent Society's (SRCS) early warning system identified a rapid decrease in the nutritional status. A Government/NGO assessment in early summer confirmed that the rising prices of grain, the imbalance of terms of trade and the slow start of the summer rains were already affecting the nutritional status of the population.

Last month, with support from the American and Danish Red Cross Societies, the Federation and SRCS sent an assessment team to the region which confirmed that 240,000 of the rural population are at risk of starvation. This appeal is in response to the team's recommendations (report available), independently supported by Oxfam's nutritional assessments. It aims to provide immediate intervention to stop further population movement from the rural areas into the main towns and to provide emergency food to ease malnutrition, especially among children, women and displaced.

The Intended Operation

The Federation and the SRCS are seeking immediate financial, material and human contributions to provide general food distribution to 160,000 of the most affected people. The acute levels of malnutrition, loss of traditional coping mechanisms coupled with severe food insecurity demand immediate intervention. For this reason, resources must be mobilised in the next three weeks to ensure effective results. Cash contributions are especially needed to cover the local purchase of food for the first four weeks, while in kind contributions must be mobilised for distribution by mid-December.

The Disaster

Red Sea Hills is subjected to regular five- to ten-year drought cycles leading to food deficits and livestock reduction. The former could be absorbed by one good year's harvest after a bad year, but since the drought of 1985, climatic conditions have changed and rains are more irregular every year. Simultaneously, the population's ability to secure food has diminished due to a drop in livestock, among other factors.

The majority of the Beja (Red Sea Hills residents most affected by the current crisis) are pastoralists, 75% of whom undertake some agricultural work. Only 10% practice it as a primary activity and agricultural land is found only in the wadi beds where water flow is affected by the level of rainfall.

Because of a high death rate among farm animals over the last year the Beja cannot rely on this means of survival for nutrition or for trade. Due to successive droughts, the population has not been able to re-establish animal husbandry activities and cows and sheep have been exchanged for indigenous animals such as camels and goats. Household income is nil for this population as pastoralists have no longer enough goats to trade for sorghum. It is estimated that 50-60% of the animals have died and those remaining are in poor condition. At the same time, the prices of sorghum have rocketed due to insufficient in-country stocks, an increase in fuel costs and general inflation.

Traditional coping mechanisms such as the male head of family going to work in Port Sudan to find work or for the women producing craft items are unavailable. Wages have decreased dramatically due to an over-supply of labour, while markets are inundated with mats and other handmade items. Finally, there is not enough food for the third traditional coping mechanism -- community sharing.

The loss of livestock and alternative sources of income, together with the 300% hike in the price of sorghum in the past six months has clearly led to a severe decrease in the purchasing power of the population. The normal barter for one sack of sorghum was one goat. Now this has soared to 15 goats to 1 sack. Sales of camels and of household goods also indicate that the current malnutrition rate is linked to food insecurity.

The Federation/SRCS and Oxfam independent assessments concluded that displaced persons in major towns had an inferior nutritional status in comparison with populations in remote villages who have not yet migrated. Immediate food distribution is needed just to keep 623 displaced families alive (517 in Sinkat and 106 in Tokar).

The following figures show a general level of severe malnutrition placing this population at the highest risk:

Weight/Height Ratio (National Centre for Health Statistics/WHO tables)**< 70% < 80% < 85%
Sinkat rural council 10.1% 25.3% 35.5%
Displaced, Sinkat 7.8% 40.0% 47.8%
**Oxfam Figures

Clear signs of malnutrition are compounded by micro-nutrient deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency is a major ailment with night blindness and severe anaemia very common. Some cases of measles were observed in Tokar hospital among the displaced. Generally, rural and displaced populations do not benefit from the existing health services which means that malnutrition rates cannot be interpreted in isolation and must be linked to overall food insecurity and health situations in the region.

The aim of the Federation/SRCS is not to be engaged in long-term feeding activities in this region but to jointly develop, with its partners, activities which will increase the National Society's capacities to provide basic Red Cross/Crescent services with respect for the social, cultural and traditional choices of the Beja.

The Response so far

Government Action The Government of Sudan has asked NGOs and UN agencies to assist the affected population in Red Sea State. Local authorities are attempting to assist the most vulnerable by giving free food through different governmental institutions. Additionally, the Government is providing subsidised sorghum at a stabilised price of 24,000 Sudanese Pounds per 90 kg sack, which still puts it beyond the reach of the most vulnerable.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Action Between September 1995 and March 1996, the National Society, in collaboration with World Food Programme, provided food assistance to about 7,400 displaced people in Red Sea Hills region through its various feeding centres. The beneficiaries consisted of children under the age of five, pregnant women and elderly persons. The assistance programme stopped at the end of February, not because of a decrease in malnutrition, but because of unavailability of resources. SRCS involvement remained in the form of gathering and analysing early warning information (a system devised with the support of Swedish Red Cross in 1987). The National Society will resume meeting the needs of the targeted population through this appeal.

In addition to the above programme, SRCS became increasingly involved with provision of relief to flood victims to the north and the south of Khartoum, mainly to displaced persons in planned and unplanned settlements. The efforts were supported by CHF 265,000 from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Funds (DREF) which still requires coverage.

Other Agencies Action UNICEF provides Unimix through the Ministry of Health through the Zakat Charitable Institution. As mentioned WFP stopped its feeding programme due to a 13% coverage of its appeal. Sudanese and international NGOs, generally speaking, have only a small input due to minimal resources. However, from May until July 1996, Oxfam provided food assistance to targeted beneficiaries in Tokar province. In response to the current emergency situation, it will provide emergency food to some 80,000 of the 240,000 who have been identified as the most vulnerable (SRCS is covering the needs of the remaining 160,000.)

Co-ordination The Federation/SRCS and Oxfam have worked closely, researching and analysing nutritional data. Independently, both organisations reached the same conclusions. It has been agreed that each will assume responsibility for the district(s) where it already has a presence. Thus the Federation/SRCS will undertake operations in Sinkat and Halaib provinces, while Oxfam will cover Rural Port Sudan and Tokar.

The Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) has formed a State Relief Committee composed of HAC, SRCS/Federation, Oxfam UK, IIRO, WFP, UNICEF and the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare. Weekly information sharing and co-ordination meetings are held. HAC conducted an assessment in the early part of the summer and is undertaking a second in late October. An official government appeal is anticipated.

The Needs to be met

Assessment of Needs Unquestionably, the population is facing a complex and chronic food deficit due to repeated drought and economic factors. Those affected can neither establish a level of food security, nor keep a sufficient number of animals to survive until the next harvest. Moreover, during recent years, they have become heavily dependent on relief. That said, and given the acceptance of the adverse effects of long-term food distribution, the severity of malnutrition seen here qualifies this as an emergency. Therefore, based on its nutritional needs assessment the Federation/SRCS will distribute emergency food including fortified blended cereal which can addrress other ailments related to poor nutritional diet.

Immediate Food & Operational Needs The emergency needs for the targeted population are for food, water and health assistance. The selected diet is composed of cereals (sorghum/wheat), oil (preferably palm oil), pulses (beans/lentils) and fortified blended cereal (Unimix, to address micro-nutrient deficiencies.) Please refer to Annex 2 for related details. Three of six requested WHO kits are also needed immediately.

Federation and donor procurement procedures will be followed for goods and services, as well as standard financial management of contributed funds.

The Operations Support Unit (OSU) of the Federation Regional Delegation in Nairobi is mobilising to provide initial support in conjunction with Logistics Services at the Secretariat. For immediate food purchases, it is envisaged that local/regional procurement will be carried out, while detailed analysis will take place to identify other sources to cover needs beyond the initial emergency phase. Cash contributions are urgently needed, unless the required items and quantities can be delivered by mid-November 1996.

Anticipated Later Needs For phase two of the operation (mid-December to end of January) both in-kind and cash contributions are necessary. With regard to food items the process must expedited to meet the emergency nature of the operation.

Red Cross & Red Crescent Objectives

- Ensure 160,000 people have immediate access to food in order to alleviate their severe nutritional status and deter further population movement.
- Provide supplementary food assistance to 517 displaced families in Sinkat who have been identified at high risk of starvation.
- Provide necessary drugs to combat Vitamin A deficiency as well as common diseases amongst the assisted population.
=5F Further strengthen SRCS operational capacity in addressing the needs of this population.
- Use existing infrastructure and ensure two-way accountability to beneficiaries and donors.
- Ensure equity in distribution of food to those already displaced and rural women responsible for management of food.
- Monitor, from the beginning, the impact of the intervention on the nutritional status of the population.

With participation from partners, assess the viability of Red Cross/ Crescent rehabilitation and development projects aimed at addressing the population's long-term needs.

National Society/Federation Plan of Action

Emergency Phase: November - December 1996

To intervene effectively, immediate action is being undertaken to secure resources for the first four weeks. Distribution will take place via existing National Society feeding centres in Sinkat and Halaib. The logistical capacities of the SRCS are already being supported by the Secretariat, the Federation's in-country Delegation and the Regional Delegation in Nairobi.

In order to determine the impact and whether there will be a need for extending the emergency phase, nutritional information will be recorded and analysed from the beginning of the operation. In addition to providing the necessary data for comparative analysis, this will aid in identifying rural population pockets which may require special feeding.

To address nutrition-related ailments, community based health training will be carried out by the National Society's trained staff and volunteers, utilising their existing model. This is likely to occur in the mid-emergency phase, i.e. beginning of December. In addition, the Federation/SRCS plan on providing six WHO kits for three months to Sinkat health centre and one each for centres at Derudeb, Hayat and Halaib. There is also a need for Vitamin A capsules to fight Avitaminosis.
To ensure efficiency in delivery, reporting and monitoring, the National Society's efforts will be supported by a five-member Federation relief team expected to arrive in Sudan prior to the official start of the operations.

Phase Two: December 1996 - January 1997

The activities listed above will continue throughout the operations and harvest results will be studied. In the event of poor winter rains, combined with lower than average surplus production, food assistance will be required for a further three months. Good winter rains, combined with fair to average surplus production, would mean a recovery element for agro-pastoralists with access to cultivable land.

It will take a considerable period of time before herds can reach earlier levels and thus it is likely those dependent on livestock will require further aid. During phase two of the operations, efforts will be focused on identifying small pockets of the population who may require supplementary assistance. A population survey is required in order to determine what percentage of the targeted beneficiaries is dependent on livestock.

Impact evaluation team members will be identified at this stage in order to conduct a follow-up nutritional assessment no later than the end of January. Participating national societies will meet to discuss development strategies and to report on the results of the impact evaluation in or around February 1997.

Capacity of the National Society The capacity of the National Society has been strengthened as a result of ongoing relief operations since the mid-1980s. The emergency assistance programmes of 1991-92 have enabled SRCS to further develop its response level. The National Society has an emergency officer based in Port Sudan, five nutrition officers, ten relief workers, ten clerks, 50 relief volunteers and 22 porters, all trained and available in the target area.

The SRCS has the necessary storage/warehouse facilities in the region and its vehicle fleet will be utilised. Additional vehicles can be provided by the Regional Delegation and through local rental or purchase.

Present Capacity of the Federation in Sudan The Federation's representation in Sudan consists of a Head of Delegation and one Finance and Administration Delegate. As previously stated, the operational and monitoring capacity of the Federation will be augmented through the deployment of five relief personnel. The team will be composed of a Relief Co-ordinator, two Relief Administrators, one Logistician and one Nutritionist/public health worker. The Federation will participate in SRCS management of operations and will jointly undertake accountability for effective delivery of relief services. The team will operate from Port Sudan along with SRCS counterparts.

Monitoring, Reporting and Evaluation Monitoring efforts will be two-fold: nutritional and service delivery. The National Society and the Federation will jointly and independently perform both. Reporting on financial and management aspects will follow standard Federation procedures. The Federation and the National Society will conduct an impact evaluation to assess the nutritional status. An overall performance evaluation will take place at the end of the operation.

Immediate action

- Identify sources and transport for required food items.
- Secure cash funding to cover the costs of the emergency phase.
- Mobilise in-country logistics and management systems by in mid-November.
- Deploy a Federation relief team.
- Secure material and cash to cover the second phase of the operations.

Budget summary
See Annex 1 for details.


The Federation and the Sudanese Red Crescent Society have taken the initiative to investigate the situation in Red Sea State. The organisation's nutritional assessment team strongly recommended intervention to address immediately the needs of the most vulnerable in order to prevent starvation and deter further movement of the rural population to urban areas.

After the start of winter rains in November and through ongoing monitoring of the nutritional status of beneficiaries, the Federation/SRCS will be able to determine whether operations need to be extended beyond the end of January 1997. The assistance sought in this appeal is for costs associated with a three-month emergency operation. Additional support may be required. Given the severity of the situation, a timely response from international partners is essential.

Margareta Wahlström George Weber Under-Secretary General, Secretary General Disaster Response & Operations Co-ordination appeal no. 17/96