WASHINGTON – The United States called Monday on Sudan to agree to an emergency aid plan in its southern war zone as officials voiced growing alarm over imminent food shortages and a rising flow of refugees.
The United Nations, Arab League and African Union have proposed to Sudan a mission to deliver aid to its states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where fighting broke out last year despite the independence of nearby South Sudan.
“We’ve pressed very, very hard for that,” Princeton Lyman, the US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said of the aid plan.
“There are ways to get food in — other ways — but they are not sufficient to the scope of the problem,” he told reporters on a conference call. “We think it’s vital and we think it’s a very high priority.”
The conflict made international headlines last month when actor George Clooney was arrested outside Sudan’s embassy in Washington as he demanded an end to the offensive. The US Senate last week passed a resolution calling on Sudan to allow immediate humanitarian access to the restive states.
Christa Capozzola, a senior official at the US Agency for International Development, said Monday that the situation was “very serious” with 200,000 to 250,000 people close to running short of food in South Kordofan and similar shortages expected by August in Blue Nile.
Some 140,000 refugees have fled the two states, mostly to South Sudan which is putting a major burden on the young and impoverished nation, said Catherine Wiesner, a State Department official.
Some 4.7 million people in South Sudan are already facing hunger this year of which at least one million are projected to be “severely food insecure,” Wiesner told the conference call.
“Humanitarian conditions are understood to be deteriorating in both conflict zones and so additional arrivals are expected in the coming months,” she said.
“With these numbers, obviously the (humanitarian) agencies remain in a race against time,” she said.
South Sudan became independent in July last year after an overwhelming vote under a peace deal that followed two decades of war. Khartoum won cautious Western praise by accepting the secession.
But the South Kordofan and Blue Nile conflicts erupted soon afterward, with Khartoum accusing newly independent South Sudan of supporting ethnic minority insurgents.