Those fleeing are driven by desperate hunger, a lack of water, and air attacks. There is no accurate census for the numbers who have reached refugee camps in the South (in the Unity and Upper Nile states), but data suggest that the figure is approaching 300,000.
The conditions in the camps are terrible, almost indescribably so – although there have been urgent dispatches from relief organizations for weeks. As rain pours down, one camp is under water; transportation to many locations is now impossible. People are living, sleeping, and tending children in mud. Latrines have flooded and drinking water is completely unfit for consumption (captured rainwater cannot begin to compensate for reliable water bore-holes).
Hundreds are dying of dehydration, and MSF estimates that mortality in one Upper Nile camp is twice the threshold for conditions defined by the UN as a humanitarian emergency. Others arrive so malnourished and exhausted that they perish on the spot.
Why are these people fleeing into such desperate circumstances? For over a year now – first in South Kordofan and then in Blue Nile – the Khartoum regime has used its military aircraft to attack civilians and agricultural production. Planes have bombed villages, forcing people to flee for caves and ravines.
The constant targeting of arable fields has disrupted two agricultural cycles, leaving people without food. The failure of this spring’s planting ensures that there will be no new food in the fall, and malnutrition indicators – where they can be registered – are already terrifyingly high. As they did in Darfur, Khartoum’s regular and militia forces have torched and destroyed the villages and food-stores of the African Nuba people who live in this border region.
Why does Khartoum persist with this cruel counter-insurgency strategy in confronting the banned rebel movement in Sudan, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North? Because it’s cheap, and within the Nuba Mountains the rebels are trouncing Khartoum’s military forces. I know from my own time in the area just how determined the Nuba people are: Having faced a jihad extermination in the 1990s, they are not about to acquiesce before Khartoum’s present aggression.