Intended for healthcare professionals


One million threatened by suspension of Sudan's relief lifeline

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 19 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:470
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. London

    Aid for millions of civilians in southern Sudan is in jeopardy after the United Nations suspended flights operated by Operation Lifeline Sudan in the wake of bombing raids against relief facilities.

    The aid lifeline, established for 11 years and one of the largest relief operations, assists people on both sides of the 17 year civil war in Sudan. In the current year it aims to deliver 100000 tonnes of food to 2.4 million people.

    Aid workers fear widespread famine could occur. Now is the time of the greatest food deficit—the “hungry” season between planting and the harvest in October. A senior UN official, Kevin Kennedy, told the Security Council on 11 August that if relief flights remained suspended for long, the impact would be serious and life threatening, adding: “Easily a million people will be at risk.”

    Operation Lifeline Sudan is organised by the United Nations (and coordinated by Unicef and the World Food Programme) but also involves other humanitarian non-governmental organisations. Other relief agencies—such as Médecins Sans Frontiàres and the International Committee of the Red Cross—work outside the UN umbrella.

    The United Nation's secretary general, Kofi Annan, said on 8 August that he was “deeply concerned over the security of humanitarian personnel and facilities belonging to Operation Lifeline Sudan.” UN spokeswoman Rosa Malango explained: “We were assured by the Sudan government in late July that our flights would be safe. Just as we received the assurances on 27 July, Sudanese air force planes bombed another five relief locations. We again went and requested the Sudanese to provide assurances. Again, after we were given those assurances, our planes were bombed on the ground.”

    Almost half the population of southern Sudan depend on food brought in from outside the country. Roger Winter of the US Committee for Refugees estimated that some two million civilians have died as a result of famine and from war related causes over the years of conflict. He claimed: “Food is the new weapon of mass destruction. The UN cut off of aid flights only serves to kill more. These bombings are clearly deliberate. The Sudanese government is targeting southern Sudanese civilians and relief workers who seek to save the lives of those civilians by providing food and medical services.”

    Unicef said: “[Sudan currently] hosts some four million internally displaced people [IDP], the largest IDP population in the world. There is widespread abuse of human rights, including denial of access to humanitarian assistance, attacks on civilians, and abductions of women and children.”

    The air raids followed a series of intemperate articles in the Sudanese press alleging that aid agencies have been helping to arm and feed the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. The government, in Khartoum, insists that no more aid flights come from outside the country.

    As virtually the entire food supply to southern Sudan originates in Operation Lifeline Sudan's base in northern Kenya, any disruption to the supply chain is likely to have catastrophic consequences for a population entirely dependent on outside supplies.

    Embedded Image

    Villagers of Akon in southern Sudan return home after receiving donated food. Further aid is now under threat


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