Is there really a famine in Sudan?

Not yet, claim British aid agencies who say the problem is over access not money, writes Jeremy Laurance

THERE IS no famine in southern Sudan. British aid agencies say there is a "food crisis" and some people are starving but they fear that a major appeal launched now could undermine efforts to raise money when a real famine arrives, possibly in a year's time.

A famine is defined as a shortage of food so serious that people are driven from their homes in a mass migration, as occurred in Ethiopia in 1984. Southern Sudan has suffered years of civil war and a current drought which has reduced people to scavenging for wild foods and leaves but it has not yet led them to leave their homes and support networks

A consortium of 15 aid agencies known as the Disasters Emergency Committee agreed at a meeting two weeks ago not to launch an appeal in Britain. There was enough food and resources available for transport into Sudan and the problem was one of access, not money, they said.

The committee, which includes Save the Children, Oxfam and the Red Cross, ratified the decision again on Monday but said they would keep it under review. However, Christian Aid has launched its own appeal for pounds 1m provoking dissent among the aid agencies.

The agencies have been caught unprepared because of the unexpected intensity of media interest in the situation. The BBC filed the first report seen in Britain early last month, but ITN later obtained more shocking pictures of emaciated children which were shown twice on News at Ten last week and again last night.

The BBC responded to what is now seen as a developing international story by dispatching extra teams to the area including the renowned reporter, Fergal Keane.

Mark Bowden, regional director of Save the Children for East Africa, said: "There are places of acute need all over southern Sudan but that doesn't mean the problems are all related. There is a lack of clarity. The media are getting into quite broad definitions of what is going on."

The worst affected area was El Ghazal, where 350,000 people were on the brink of starvation. However, thousands of tons of food and other aid had been promised by governments and donor agencies and the Sudanese government had increased the number of flights allowed into the area from one to four. "That is just about enough," he said.

Mr Bowden said it was essential members of the public were acutely informed so that they could be confident when an appeal came that they knew what it was for and how the money would be spent. "Personally I think it is irresponsible to appeal to the public at a time when we are still trying to define the problem."

A famine meant setting up feeding centres and relief shelters and could make a fragile situation worse by encouraging people to leave their homes and migrate to the feeding centres to obtain food. This was not appropriate in Sudan where the priority was to stabilise the situation which would take at least 10 months and require sustained support.

A spokeswoman for Christian Aid said its officials were working in a separate area, closer to the Ugandan border and accessible by road, where food could be trucked in. She said the charity had not used the term famine, but vulnerable people were dying. She dismissed suggestions that "famine fatigue" might set in if the situation worsened next year and another appeal had to be launched.

"That is something talked about ... But why wait till there is a famine? We want to do something now to prevent it happening. Do we want to see people dying? I don't think we do."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'