Continued fighting in the northern parts of Liech (Western Upper Nile) displaced about 50,000 people in January of this year. This is likely to result in the accelerated consumption or loss of grain stocks.
WFP has already started to respond to food needs identified in December 2002. In January, WFP delivered 2,300 MT out of a planned 3,757 MT. Access to highly food insecure areas of Western Upper Nile and Bieh was limited by insecurity.
Apart from recently displaced people in Liech, additional concerns include recent returnees and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and insecurity and water shortages in Bieh, Southern Blue Nile and Sobat areas.
A peace agreement was made in February between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) calling on both parties to take steps to facilitate the immediate return of displaced people to their homes in Western Upper Nile. Though this is likely to improve access to the region in the coming months, the displaced population may be hesitant to return home immediately.
Insecurity, water and food shortages, and poor nutrition are threatening at least 30,000 people in Southern Blue Nile (Renk) region. Operation Lifeline Sudan is preparing interventions for this region.
1. Overview of Current Food Security Status
The general food security situation has not significantly changed since the Annual Needs Assessment in December 2003. Critical areas remain Bieh, Liech, Ruweng, Aweil West, Gogrial, Torit and Pibor, with the addition of Terekeka area.
A slight deterioration has been observed in parts of Pibor, Western Upper Nile, Ezo and Tambura areas. In Pibor, 2,000 people have arrived from Pinyundo refugee camp in Ethiopia as a result of insecurity around the camp. Also, water shortages and lack of pasture has led to increased movement of pastoral households from Pibor to southern parts of Bor.
The continued presence of displaced people in Tambura and the arrival in February of an additional 2,000 refugees and returnees in Ezo from the DRC is increasing the potential for conflict in one of the most food secure and productive regions of southern Sudan.
Fighting during January between the GOS and SPLA around oil fields in northern parts of Liech forced 50,000 people away from their villages. Although hopes are high that the peace process will work, continued fighting in Liech and other areas remains a threat to this process. Negotiations for peace started in July of last year, followed by a ceasefire agreement made on October 15. On the February 4, an addendum to the ceasefire was signed, calling on both parties to take steps that would facilitate the return of Liech's displaced population. The peace talks are still going on in Nairobi, Kenya.
1.1 Emerging Food Security Concerns
The main issues currently affecting food security in Southern Sudan include recent displacements caused by civil insecurity, the arrival of returnees and refugees, and water problems (Figure 1).
Heavy fighting between the Government of Sudan (GoS) backed militia and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the central and northern parts of Liech in January 2003 displaced 50,000 people. Although fighting has been recurrent over the past four years, the cumulative impact of continued insecurity on households in Liech may be most evident this year, when neighboring areas, such as Gogrial, Tonj, Twic, Rumbek and Yirol, experienced in their worst harvest since 1999, and will not be able to provide the same support they did in the recent past, when the displaced population from Liech would typically exchange assets such as livestock for grain.
With continued conflict, the most likely scenarios are:
- Increased movement to Bahr El Gazal, which would likely create conflicts over pasture and water during this dry season (January-May).
- A significant proportion of the population may constantly be on the move between relief centers and the swampy areas of the river Nile to avoid fighting. This movement will certainly affect the ability of households to take full advantage of the next growing season, even if timely and sufficient agricultural inputs are available.
Though an agreement was signed in February 2003 between the SPLA and GoS, calling both sides to take steps to enable the immediate and voluntary return of the civilian populations of Liech to their home areas, food security is not likely to improve before the harvest in September, because most households will have lost or consumed their grain stocks. Also, access to off farm food sources such as wild food, fish and livestock products is not likely to improve before September.
Ezo and Tambura
A multi-agency assessment mission conducted in Ezo and Tambura in January 2003 raised concerns about the increasing presence of returnees and refugees. An estimated 40,000 and 10,000 people are residing in camps in Tambura and Ezo respectively. About 15,000 of these are people who fled from Raga to Tambura in July 2001. An additional 10,000 (EZO) and 18,000 (Tambura) returnees and refugees arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) during the last year. The latest group arrived just this month from the DRC. Most of these people are residing in camps where, according to the January assessment findings, food, water, sanitation and health services are lacking. The assessment recommended food aid, water and health services in addition to 100 percent food aid rations between February and April, followed by 75 percent between May and July. While the recommendation to provide a full ration to parts of the population may be valid, this recommendation may not be appropriate for the entire returnee, refugee and displaced community, since part of the population is able to sell labor for food. In fact, in July last year, an assessment conducted by WFP indicated that the displaced people from Raga was able to meet a significant proportion of their food needs from labor sales and gathering of wild foods. This resulted in WFP reducing food aid rations from 100 to 50 percent. As such, 100 percent food rations may only be appropriate for people who are not able to obtain food in any other way apart from relief. Given the need to understand more about the ways different refugee and returnee groups are meeting their food needs, it is important to carry out a proper food security assessment and nutrition survey in the camps in order to make more appropriate interventions. This is especially so since the camps are located in food surplus producing areas, where a number of income opportunities exist. Also, although the team recommended seed aid, it is important to note that locally procured seeds were provided to the Raga displaced group in Tambura during last year's cropping season, but the seeds failed to perform. Reasons for this failure need to be understood before such an intervention is made so the same problem does not occur again this year.
Action Against Hunger conducted a nutrition survey in Sobat in January 2003. The preliminary food security-related findings of this survey highlight that:
- Extensive sorghum and maize losses occurred in last year's harvest;
- About 30 percent of the population had migrated to other areas in search of food;
- About 50 percent of households close to GoS controlled areas have been displaced since April last year;
- Kalazaar, a disease associated with presence of sand flies and affecting the body by enlarging the spleen, loss of weight and severe wasting, is reducing the productivity of households.
Some of these findings are consistent with those of a similar assessment conducted in the same area at the same time last year. However, it is important to note that this area is sparsely populated, and that migration has been high every year during the dry season (December-May), due to chronic water problems. More conclusions may be drawn when the nutrition data is fully analyzed by the end of February.
The latest reports from Bieh indicate that water shortages have reached critical levels and insecurity continues to affect the area. In the last four years, poor hygiene practices have compounded the effects of these water shortages, leading to malnutrition, even in the period just after the harvest, when food should be more plentiful, (e.g. Akobo district in 1999). Traditionally, the population in this area would have access to grazing, water and fishing areas in Latjor and Phou. However, due to ethnic hostilities since 1999, this access is no longer ensured. At the same time, the implementation of sustainable water programs has been undermined by continued local insecurity. Although significant amounts of food aid have been provided to this area in the last three years, continued insecurity and the absence of other non-food-related interventions reduce the effectiveness of this aid.
2. Agro -- Climatic Conditions
January is typically a dry month across southern Sudan. Pasture conditions started declining in November last year, around two months earlier than normal. Figure (1b) shows the extent of the problem by the end of January, with below normal vegetation conditions in most of Jonglei, parts of Upper Nile, and pockets in Western Bahr El Gazal, Lakes and Eastern Equatoria. Field reports confirm critical water problems in Bieh (Jonglei) and poor pasture availability in Pibor (Jonglei). Pastoralists in Pibor are moving in larger than usual numbers in search of both pasture and water for livestock. Water shortages have also decreased the numbers of wild game, a major source of food in Pibor. The impact of poor vegetation conditions on livestock and its contribution to food security is likely to be more pronounced in Jonglei (Bieh) and Eastern Equatoria (Torit).
This is due to the loss of significant options that would otherwise offset or compensate for the reduction in local grazing. For instance, in Bieh, a loss of trade due to escalating local insecurity, and the loss of access to the abundant grazing areas of Latjor and Phou have reduced food income households might otherwise have earned. In Torit, the failure of last years cropping season and the potential of increased cattle raiding are likely to aggravate the impact of livestock productivity losses.
Generally, the main threat from poor grazing conditions is that more household members will have to move over long distances in search of water and pasture and to secure access to milk and meat, and this will likely delay the return from grazing areas. This delay in turn would certainly reduce the amount of time and labor available to prepare land for the next cropping season and could also undermine households' ability to procure seed on time.
2.1 Livestock Conditions
Livestock conditions are generally fair, as reported from a number of locations in Bahr El Gazal and Upper Nile regions. However, an outbreak of anthrax has been reported by animal health agencies in parts of Twic and Aweil East. Foot and mouth disease and high infertility rates have also been reported in the southern parts of Liech. Testing for anthrax is currently underway, and interventions to control foot and mouth disease have started. The impact of anthrax is potentially devastating because it spreads quickly and cause high mortality rates. Foot and mouth reduces milk production and causes the deaths of calves and abortions. The potential spread of both diseases remains high, given that this is the dry season when all livestock move towards dry season grazing areas. Of particular concern is the unconfirmed presence of anthrax in Aweil East, as this area is already moderately food insecure.
2.2 Health and Nutrition
Field reports indicated that meningitis-related deaths occurred in the central parts of Bieh state in early February. In the past, limited access to water has contributed to the outbreak of water borne diseases that also contribute to malnutrition in the dry season. This year, water shortages are raising similar concerns. The multi-agency assessment on refugees, returnees and displaced persons conducted in Ezo and Tambura in January this year indicates that health and water services were very poor in two (Bariguna and Bangima) out of four camps. Malaria, cough, chest infections and diarrhea cases were commonly observed. The other two camps of Baikpa and Mabia were found to have better services. However, a kind of ulcer referred to as "Buruli ulcer" was endemic in Mabia camp, but health agencies had managed to control it.
As noted above, a nutrition survey was conducted in Payuer area of Sobat in January, the full results of which are still pending. Another nutrition survey is planned to take place in the Pagol area of Ruweng before the end of February.
2.3 Food Aid Interventions
The Annual Needs Assessment findings indicated that a total of 3,757 MT of food was required for food insecure groups in various areas in January. Over 70 percent of this food (2,300 MT) was delivered. However, access to needy households in Liech and Bieh was limited because of ongoing fighting. WFP's cereal stocks stood at 35,000 MT (44 percent of the total food required this year) at the beginning of January. The cereals are expected to last until June or July 2003. Likely interventions in the newly accessible southern Blue Nile region will exhaust food aid cereals supplies by May. Other commodities, such as oil, blended foods and pulses, will run out in April or May 2003, at the start of the agricultural season. It is crucial that the pipeline is replenished by February and March in order to ensure that continuous support is provided, while at the same time reserving some contingency stocks to respond to unforeseen emergencies and intervention opportunities that may arise if the peace process succeeds within the course of this year.
Special Feature -- Southern Blue Nile (Renk) Region
Southern Blue Nile (also known as Renk) is an area recently identified with pressing humanitarian needs. Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), led by UNICEF, is mobilizing resources to intervene. A significant part of the region is under GOS control.
Fighting took place in September last year, displacing 30,000 people who now reside in camps. The situation calmed down following the ceasefire agreement between the SPLA and GOS in October of last year. This enabled humanitarian agencies to conduct rapid assessments at the beginning of November. The findings of an assessment conducted by one of the agencies (GOAL) in November were as follows;
- The displaced population wanted to return home by the end of the year.
- All the camps had access to sufficient water from nearby rivers and wells but sanitation facilities were non-existent.
- Rapid nutrition measurements using MUAC (Middle Upper Arm Circumference) gave rough indications of an improved nutrition situation compared to September. This may have been due to the provision of relief food as well as the availability of the short-term sorghum harvest. Relief food was purchased by agencies in Ethiopia, while the harvest was collected by the displaced at night from nearby farms.
- People were trading across the border with Ethiopia
The assessment recommended coordinated interagency interventions and proper food security and nutrition assessments. The October 2002 ceasefire agreement provided an opportunity for OLS to plan these interventions. WFP Southern Sudan sector estimated total requirements at 2,259 MT, translating into 266 MT monthly for the 30,000 displaced people in the SPLA held areas until August-September 2003. In response, the GOS and SPLA made agreements inviting the UN agencies to provide assistance to southern Blue Nile and other needy areas. The UN followed up by sending an assessment team to the northern area of the region at the beginning of February. The findings of the assessment were that:
- The displaced camps were insecure and people's priority was to move to safer areas.
- The shortage of water had become critical following lower than normal rainfall last year.
- There was a high prevalence of malnutrition in one of the camps.
- HIV/AIDS was a concern due to Ethiopia's close proximity.
- The magnitude of food insecurity varied from area to area.
Provision of water, agricultural inputs, implementation of supplementary and therapeutic feeding and provision of food aid were some of the recommendations made by the assessment. Although the population requires food assistance, proper food security assessments have not been conducted yet. While intervention strategies are being finalized, it is important that relevant agencies prepare strategies for conducting proper assessments to obtain food security and general baseline data in order to improve the effectiveness of upcoming humanitarian interventions.
Source: GOAL / Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA)