South Sudan faces 2000

Only two years ago, in 1998, at least 60,000 people died in the worst famine to hit Sudan during the twentieth century. Caused and exacerbated by bad harvests, civil war, limited access to populations in need and the diversion of food by warring factions, the crisis continued for most of the year. The television cameras which focused on the emergency beamed images of mass-starvation in yet another war-torn African country around the world.
Ironically, while alerting the world to crisis, these types of images tend to depersonalise those in need and affirm the mistaken assumption that Africa is a hopeless continent, destined to be in the grips of famine, disease and conflict forever. The optimism the new millennium seemed to instill so many in the northern hemisphere is somehow not meant for the people of Africa.

Thankfully the situation has improved over the last year. MSF, who lent emergency relief throughout the crisis, remains in the areas of Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, the Lakes, Western and Eastern Equatoria. But its presence is now more low-key, with several feeding centres having closed in 1999. Partly due to the relative calm, the teams were able to celebrate the dawn of January 1st, 2000 without much more to worry about than the very noisy and lengthy celebrations by the local population.

"They were just drumming and drumming all night every night for two weeks," laughed Inge, a Belgian nurse who works throughout Bahr el Ghazal and Jonglei. "Mind you, that's their way of giving the all-clear. When you don't hear them anymore, you know something's wrong." She and many MSF-ers were in Mapel, Bahr el Ghazal, for the turn of the century.

"It was really good," she said, "we didn't stay up that long after midnight, but the atmosphere was great. The skies in Sudan are immense: just you, the sky and the stars. There were also a lot of people from the other NGOs stationed there, so yes, it was fun."

While we can celebrate the dawn of a new era in peace even in South Sudan is a cause for hope, there is enough reason to remain alert. The teams continue to keep an eye on developments particularly in Bahr el Ghazal which saw the worst of both the fighting and famine during the crisis.

The rains and harvest having been and gone, the dry season started again in late November and will continue until March. This usually means populations on the move and, unfortunately, the resumption of fighting between the Khartoum government in the north and the rebel forces in the south.

So far the situation has remained relatively stable, allowing the MSF teams to continue to provide primary health care and vaccination, conduct epidemiological surveys and early warning system and combat Kala Azar, Malaria and Sleeping Sickness.

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