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The ‘Here and Now’ of Crisis: Famine in Sudan and the Hesitance of International Response

By Comms Blogger Tyler S. Bugg

In a letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned that the Khartoum government’s restrictions of international aid workers and emergency assistance packages to Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions is placing the area “on the brink of” a humanitarian famine crisis.

When does an “on the brink of” crisis become a “present and current” crisis? I find it already has.

Since the conflict in the region erupted last year, the apparent detachment between the Sudanese government and the civilians on the ground has become wider. According to Ambassador Rice’s letter, the United Nations already estimates that at least 500,000 people have and are still being affected by the conflict in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions. While some have been able to flee the conflict and seek greater safety in neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia, some have been displaced and rendered immobile within Sudan. The overbearing scope of conflict in the regions has intensely constrained the movement of civilians in carrying out the necessary steps of survival. Most notable among them: the impossibility of growing, harvesting, and keeping access to food.

The international community understand this lack of access as a consequence of the conflict, and it wants to lend its hand. Earlier this week, the UN Security Council expressed “deep and growing alarm” over famine threats and called on Sudan and rebels working to close off the country’s borders to cease doing so. The immediate and free flow of aid workers into the country are crucial to preventing drastically rising hunger levels.

The government of Sudan, however, has other plans. Ambassador Rice amounts those plans to famine: “It is clear the Government of Sudan has instituted a deliberate policy to prevent humanitarian agencies from reaching vulnerable civilians impacted by the conflict.” Food security analysts agree and say the consequences are dire; in the current conflict-ridden tensions and without aid flows into Sudan, food security will be jeopardized as early as March of this year.

With such immediate violence and famine on the ground in Sudan, where is the immediate international response? Ambassador Rice’s letter and statements from the UN Security Council are certainly an important start in making a public call for pressuring Sudan to allow aid workers and food relief into the country. The (what is presented to be strong) rhetoric of their words, however, are impeded by a tone of hesitancy. A blatant inconsistency exists when South Kordofan and Blue Nile are classified as under an internationally recognized “Phase 4/Emergency” status but described by conditions of “likely famine in the near future.”

The future is already here, and famine is already spreading in the regions, attacking vulnerable civilians today. Statements from the international community that portray the famine as anything short of a current and present humanitarian crisis are both weakening the pressure of their words and harming Sudanese civilians still within zones of conflict.

A ‘here and now’ response is necessary for alleviating a ‘here and now’ crisis. A proactive pressure against Sudanese government restrictions is absolutely crucial for addressing the criss today before it becomes one we could have helped tomorrow.


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