MSF Report Blames War Tactics for Massive Civilian Mortality in Western Upper Nile

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

Nairobi/New York, April 29, 2002 — In a report released today, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borderes/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) charged warring parties in Sudan's western Upper Nile (WUN) region with responsibility for appalling civilian mortality from infectious diseases and violence.

Drawing on 14 years of MSF experience in the region and individual testimonies, the report describes how all parties to the conflict use violence against civilians—including rape, murder and assault—and denial of access to humanitarian aid as tactics of war that have resulted in enormous civilian mortality rates. Rich in oil resources, western Upper Nile has in the past four years become a focal point of the Sudanese civil war—a 19-year old war whose victims are overwhelmingly civilians decimated by disease and violence.

The organization urged the Sudanese government, the SPLA, and associated militia groups to stop targeting civilians, medical personnel, and medical facilities. MSF also called for an immediate lifting of a recently issued flight ban and demanded access to areas where civilians are in desperate need of protection and assistance.

"Thousands of people have died from diseases that can be treated, even during conflict. It is the way the war is waged that limits access to medical services," said Arjan Hehenkamp, Operational Director of MSF. "The needs are massive, but there is virtually no humanitarian presence in the area and attacks on health workers and facilities deprive patients of any care."

One concrete example is kala azar (visceral leishmaniasis), a parasitic disease that is fatal if left untreated. MSF estimates that at its peak in the late-1980s, the disease killed at least 100,000 people in WUN—at least one third of the population of the area. The disease continues to affect hundreds every year, and every time MSF is forced to evacuate it means that patients infected with the deadly disease are left untreated.

In the past three months alone, MSF teams have been forced to evacuate three locations due to insecurity. Currently there are reports of increased fighting, and there is virtually no humanitarian presence in the area, except for in the government-held town of Bentiu.

Read the full report Violence, Health and Access to Aid in Unity State/Western Upper Nile, Sudan