September 2nd, 2013

Victims of Their Government: The humanitarian crisis in Blue Nile State, Sudan, 2 years on

Two years ago today, September 2nd 2011, war broke out in Blue Nile State Sudan between the Government’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). The Government began to target communities that had not supported it during the second civil war. The predominantly African peoples living in Blue Nile have been subject to sustained aerial bombardment ever since. Thousands of civilians live under the constant threat of attack, in particular the elderly and young families who are unable to make the long trip to the refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

Civilian Attacks

The Blue Nile offers little cover from the aerial bombardment. Families have deserted their villages and fled into the bush. When the Antonov bombers fly over they hide in the sides of dried out river beds, which offer very little protection.

Aisha* lives in Blue Nile with her 10 children. The Antonov bombers have targeted the local market and there is little food left. She told HART:

“I don’t know why he kills us. We are his own people. We don’t know exactly the things that make him kill us and chase us. He is our brother and our leader. We don’t know why he kills us. Since I was born, I have lived here. When the Antonov comes, we run and hide in the banks of the river. Sometimes the children start crying ‘I need food’. We say ‘Where will I find food, Bashir is chasing us?’”

 Reports suggest SAF conducted 120 air strikes in Blue Nile between January and June 2013, amounting to almost one a day. At least 15 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed. The aerial bombardment has been accompanied by an increase in the number of ground attacks by SAF, looting properties and livestock and destroying villages in an effort to force the people to leave.

There have been incidences of rape and of violence against minority groups. On February 22nd, 22 members of Ismail Kora’s militia, armed by the Sudanese forces, raped 10 women in the Baw locality, killing 9 of them. All were from the Ingessana tribe.

The effect of the war on the civilian population has been devastating. Two years ago, the population living in the affected region was 300,000. Now, just 18,500 remain in their homes.  119,220 are internally displaced and 162,280 have fled to South Sudan and Ethiopia as refugees, totalling 94% of the conflict zone’s population.

“The Antonov is coming from the sky – there is nothing we can do. We are civilians and we don’t have any power to stand in front of Bashir to say anything. We just want God to change his bad attitude. Let him not want to kill his own people anymore.”

Political Talks and Humanitarian Aid

International aid has been prevented from entering these areas since fighting began Harvests have failed for the last two years, as people have been unable to plant or harvest crops because of aerial bombardment. Outbreaks of disease and a lack of access to emergency food supplies make it difficult for people to survive.

In July 2012, after months of talks, Khartoum ‘accepted’ a tripartite proposal presented by the United Nations, African Union and the Arab League, which would allow food and medical aid to reach people still living in Blue Nile. But the agreement was reneged on and the emergency aid never arrived. When HART visited in January, some people suggested that the tripartite proposal has worsened the situation in Blue Nile. The agreement gave people a false hope that aid would come and so some remained in conflict zones rather than leaving for South Sudan. During this time, with little access to food, their health deteriorated to the point that they were no longer able to make the journey away from Blue Nile.

A year later and the talks continue. During recent political negotiations the United Nations proposed a suspension of hostilities for 7 days to allow much needed polio vaccinations access to the SPLM-N areas. This would be followed by a second phase providing routine immunisations by the end of December and a final stage allowing provision of primary care services by the end of March 2014. The programme can only occur alongside a temporary ceasefire. Yesterday both the Government and the SPLM-N agreed in principal for the vaccination campaign to proceed in October. A precise date and modalities of a temporary cessation of hostilities have yet to be decided.

HART’s Role in Blue Nile

HART has been working through local partners to provide emergency relief to civilians still living in Blue Nile. During 2012, we provided funds for emergency food aid and for the transport of medical supplies. In one area, 450 people had already died from starvation or hunger related illnesses. This aid has provided a lifeline.

In January this year HART visited Blue Nile and was able to receive on the ground confirmation that the people had received and benefitted from the aid given. Some of the people we met there told us they were grateful for this food as it enabled them to stay in their own country after decades of conflict and displacement. They told us they would prefer to die in their own country from bombs than have to go into exile, again.

“There is a bombing every week or every day here. I am not going to leave the village, I will die here.


HART would like to thank all our supporters who make our work in Blue Nile possible. In particular the Isle of Man Overseas Aid Committee who have provided emergency financial support for desperately needed food aid for the peoples of Sudan’s Blue Nile state.


*Aisha’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity

Emma Camp

By Emma Camp

Emma is currently interning at HART during her summer break having finished first year at Leeds studying International Development. Her particular interests include state and politics in Africa.

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