Africa appears, for the time being, to have warded off two potential disasters: mass starvation in southern Sudan and crop destruction by insects elsewhere. Seasonal rains in hunger- and war-wracked southern Sudan have ushered in a brief season of plenty. But, relief workers warn, disastrous food shortages may occur again early next year.
For many southerners, the October-to-November harvest was the first this year, following widespread crop failure last July. The rains were followed by a temporary lull in the three-year war between troops of the Islamic government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in Khartoum and Christian rebels of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), based in the south.
As a result, relief agencies have been able to deliver large shipments of emergency food to southern towns controlled by government troops. The agencies estimate some 96,000 tons of food have been delivered to southern Sudan since January this year. But they doubt this even comes close to meeting the needs of southern Sudan's people.
A UN official in Khartoum rejects press reports that relief organizations have exaggerated the extent of the crisis in southern Sudan and created a ``myth of the starving millions.'' Earlier estimates that 2 million people risked starvation were based on patchy information from the countryside, the official acknowledges. But, he says, the UN knows of 200,000 people displaced by insecurity, drought, and pests, who are living on leaves, roots, and relief food.
The latest harvest, relief workers estimate, will be exhausted by March. Meanwhile government troops are believed to be readying a major offensive for the onset of the dry season in January.
Civil war, not drought, is seen as the major cause of hunger in southern Sudan. Thirty years of intermittent conflict have depleted resources, disrupted agriculture, and eroded social structures.