War and hunger causing “human catastrophe” in the Nuba Mountains

The war that broke out in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, has now spread south to the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, where many Christians live. The region is largely under the control of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North and is coming under attack from Sudanese government forces. The situation has been aggravated by the arrival of tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict. Local partner Benjamin Barnaba tells CSI a real human catastrophe is being played out.

CSI is providing food aid to those in need in the Nuba Mountains and South Sudan. csi

CSI is providing food aid to those in need in the Nuba Mountains and South Sudan. csi

CSI: How would you describe the situation at present in the Nuba Mountains?

The current war in Sudan has diminished any hope for a brighter future for the people of the Nuba region who have been engaged in a liberation struggle for more than 50 years [since before the start of the second Sudanese civil war in 1983]. The war has caused untold suffering to the civilian population.

It is the rainy season, and the people of Nuba, Blue Nile and Darfur should be in their farms cultivating their crops. But the war has prevented them from working the land.

There are many internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees who have fled from Sudanese army-controlled areas. Coupled with poor harvests from the last rainy season, there is little food available in the few local markets, and people have nothing to buy food with. This is a real human catastrophe.

Once again, we are experiencing aerial bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) that use Antonov aircraft to destroy the villages inhabited by the Nuba and Blue Nile African indigenous people. This is a form of collective punishment.

The south of Blue Nile State has been under constant bombardment since June 26. In the Nuba Mountains, bombardment began a few days earlier.

A fragile ceasefire had been in place since 2016 between the Sudanese Armed Forces and armed rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLA-N). Is it true to say this has collapsed and that war has again broken out in the Nuba Mountains?

After signing a historic declaration of principle with the Sudanese transitional government on March 28, 2021, the SPLA-N led by Commander Abdelaziz al-Hilu has been firmly honoring the truce in the hope of reaching a just peace with the other side. And when the war started in Khartoum [in April 2023] between the SAF and a rival faction, the RSF, the SPLA-N did not try to exploit the situation. It did not initiate any offensive to gain territory from the SAF or RSF in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.

I would say war has now broken out in the Nuba Mountains, yes. The ceasefire agreement has been violated and is dead, and an escalation is imminent. All parties in the conflict need to be encouraged to show restraint and to come to the negotiating table.

How did the war in the region start up again?

The unrest began on June 8, 2023, when Muslim nomads allied with the SAF stole about 250 cattle from people living in the Nuba Mountains. The situation escalated when those who had been robbed tried to recover their cattle.

A similar thing happened in Blue Nile State on June 25 when the Sudanese army and its allies rustled over 300 cattle from villages in West Kurmuk. When civilians confronted the thieves, they were arrested and tortured. Others were killed.

How many casualties has the renewed fighting caused?

Thankfully, there have been few casualties so far. That is because the civilian population knows the war tactics being employed in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile; they can anticipate what will happen and respond appropriately. And yet, I wonder how many more people will have to die before we achieve freedom in Sudan.

Humanitarian aid worker Benjamin Barnaba
Humanitarian aid worker Benjamin Barnaba

When war broke out in Khartoum, many people fled to the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions. Can you give us an estimate of the number of displaced persons?

Yes, many people fled to the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile seeking protection and safety. There are still more on their way although many have been prevented from arriving after attacks on the town of Dilling when the RSF blocked the routes. The latest estimates are more than 21,000 people in the Nuba Mountains, and 8,000 in Blue Nile region. The majority of these are women with children.

Are these people originally from the Nuba Mountains?

The majority are from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, however there are also people from South Sudan who were living in Sudan before the war, and who are now returning home.

What is the humanitarian impact of the unrest?

The humanitarian actors trying to respond to the crisis are overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis. Nobody was prepared for it. The people face severe hunger and malnutrition. To some extent they can survive on roots, fruits and leaves, but such a diet could result in serious health problems in the long term.

What help do people need, apart from food?

Food is the number one need, but shelter from the rain and sun, medical care, transportation facilities, and clean water are all essential.

CSI is providing aid. What specifically?

We are very thankful to CSI for the humanitarian assistance it is offering to the people at risk in the Nuba Mountains. CSI is providing food aid to the most vulnerable groups and households. It is distributing seeds and agricultural equipment to help prevent future hunger crises. In one district, Thobo, CSI is helping provide the infrastructure for schools to function. For us, this is the most important means to ensure a better future. We also thank CSI for supporting a farm to provide food for those most in need – orphans, widows and the elderly – and the drilling of a well to provide clean water.

Benjamin Barnaba is a humanitarian worker and human rights defender. He is the Executive Director of the New Sudan Council of Churches, a partner organization of CSI. 

Interview: Reto Baliarda

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