War strips southern Sudan bare: Tribal fighting among rebels has increased hunger, writes Richard Dowden in Kongor

SCORES of people will starve to death here in the next few days because the United Nations has missed the chance to send food supplies in the past week.

Last night the opportunity ended, as fighting was reported 30 miles to the north between the two factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The UN decided not to fly here for several days because of the reports. Although the town has been peaceful for the past few days, the World Food Programme has not delivered food since last Wednesday. No reason has been given, and last night a senior UN official contacted in Lokichoggio, the UN base in northern Kenya, said he was too busy to talk to the Independent.

The food delivered last week was immediately distributed, and many people have not eaten since. They have been weakened by months of hunger, and some are already dying. According to the local relief committee, 40,000 people are registered for food aid.

Every morning hundreds of very hungry people arrive from surrounding areas. They walk slowly out of the scrub which stretches across this vast plain: very tall, very black people. Some have a blanket and car-tyre sandals; some have a stick and a necklace of cowrie shells. Many have nothing. They come naked. All are starving.

They have been drawn by a regular supply of food that began on 16 April. Then it dried up and they now hang around the airstrip waiting. Most of them are sleeping in the open and have nothing more than a blanket.

The room for new arrivals in the feeding centre is a horror of black skeletons with skin and huge dark eyes. Mothers with withered breasts wave flies away from the faces of their babies. The babies, like grotesque foetal corpses, lie and stare intently. They never make a sound.

The fighting is a new round of the two-year war between the two wings of the SPLA. It has split along tribal lines: Dinka and Nuer. This Dinka area was ravaged by a Nuer invasion two years ago. All the cattle were killed or stolen, which is why these people are starving. One old man said: 'Even for our oldest men this was unimaginable. Nothing like this has ever happened in the remembered history of the Dinka people.' Each household used to have 30 head of cattle, each named and cherished. The Dinka can live off milk alone for weeks on end.

Last month the Dinka wing, led by John Garang, swept back into Kongor and then drove the Nuer, led by Riak Machar, into his own territory. The Dinka sacked the small Nuer town of Ayod and are still chasing Riak's forces. The two tribes have a history of cattle-raiding, but this is total war - fought with Kalashnikovs and rocket-launchers - and will result in mass starvation.

There is no food in Kongor, and last night Philip Aguer, co-ordinator for the local Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, decided to distribute seed meant for planting, which was being stored in the warehouse. Once that has been eaten, people will starve.

The present fighting is occurring about 30 miles to the north, at Duk, but there are fears in the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan headquarters that the Nuer may attack Kongor. As a result of these fears, which are based on little more than rumour, the UN has said it will not go into Kongor for several days. As in Somalia, where the UN decided to withdraw because of insecurity, the organisation is ordering its staff to take no risks. And, again as in Somalia, the small private aid agencies are continuing to work in areas considered unsafe by the UN.

Goal, the Irish aid agency, has been advised by the UN not to send its three nurses into Kongor for a few days. They fly daily into Kongor to run the children's feeding centre there. However, the nurses and their pilot said they would make a final decision in the morning.

Yesterday the town was quiet, but about 30 wounded fighters were brought in during the day, and aid workers in the Nuer area said they, too, were seeing returning wounded.

Another disturbing factor is rain. It will make life even worse for those camping out, increasing malaria and water-borne disease. Worst of all, it will prevent aircraft from landing on the airstrip. Last night as the sun went down there was an ominous peal of thunder.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London