Alarming Death Rate from Starvation in Ajiep, Southern Sudan

New York/Nairobi, July 27, 1998 — One-hundred-twenty people are dying daily due to starvation in Ajiep, in the province of Bahr el Ghazal, southern Sudan, a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) nutritional and mortality survey reports. In the 10 days leading up to July 20, the mortality rate increased four-fold, reaching over 69 deaths per 10,000 people per day for the entire population, and 133 deaths per 10,000 per day for children under the age of 5 years.* The survey also shows a global malnutrition rate of 55.7 percent, and a severe malnutrition rate of 36.3 percent for an estimated population of 17,500.

"The situation in Ajiep is catastrophic. This pocket of famine in Bahr el Ghazal could be an indicator of the trend in other areas in southern Sudan," said Sophie Baquet, MSF nutritionist, who took part in the survey." People are walking for up to three days to Ajiep in search of food and arrive in a terrible state, often dying on arrival. The displaced people coming in droves daily to Ajiep come with very little, possibly a few pots and pans but nothing else. The rains can make the nights very cold and the weak and hungry are sleeping under the trees with no shelter."

As of July 19, 1998, MSF had registered a total of 9,972 children under the age of 5 years in 7 supplementary feeding centers, and 459 children in 5 therapeutic feeding centers in Bahr el Ghazal. In the last 2 weeks, the organization has seen a 16 percent increase in the number of children in the supplementary feeding centers, with a total of 2,323 in Ajiep alone. MSF is in the process of expanding its program in Ajiep and other locations and is also planning to increase the number of feeding centers to try to respond to the worsening situation in Bahr el Ghazal. It is clear that supplementary food distribution has no real impact on the population if it does not go hand in hand with sufficient general food distribution.

The nutritional and mortality survey clearly illustrates that, in spite of the efforts being made to increase the general food distribution, there is not sufficient food reaching the most vulnerable population. The situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming months, and will worsen in 1999, given late rains, a predicted poor harvest, and the continued conflict. Additionally, all humanitarian organizations operating in southern Sudan are still facing constraints in logistics, capacity and access.

Humanitarian relief will never solve the fundamental problem. The current ceasefire is a small step in the right direction, but without a long-term political settlement, thousands of Sudanese people will continue to die.

* 2 deaths per 10,000 population per day is considered an emergency.

MSF is the world's largest independent emergency medical relief organization, providing aid to victims of armed conflict, natural and man-made disasters, and epidemic diseases.