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Hunger Season in Darfur

Posted on: Thursday, July 9, 2009

Keywords: Darfur, Sudan, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Food Sovereignty

As global food aid reaches its lowest levels in 20 years, Josette Sheeran, the head of the United Nations World Food Program, recently issued a sobering warning: “With one in six people going hungry, one child dying every six seconds, and 80 percent of Sub-Saharan African countries facing higher food prices than a year ago, the poor and the hungry are facing one of the biggest crises in our lifetimes.”

Since last year, soaring food prices, dwindling fiscal support for food aid organizations like the UN World Food Program and widespread climate change have led to worldwide food insecurity. However, severe food shortages are nothing new for women and families living in the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan. More than two million people—one third of the population—have been uprooted from their homes by an ongoing six-year conflict that has already claimed the lives of 300,000 people.

Typically, farmers in Darfur have looked forward to the arrival of the summer rains in June as the beginning of the planting season. However, for farming families who have been driven into refugee camps, the start of the rainy season only marks continued hardship. With the rains continuing through October—a period commonly referred to as the “hunger gap season” before crops are harvested—the timely delivery of food aid to refugee camps in Darfur is critical. The UN World Food Program reports that food is usually distributed to more than three million people during the peak months from May through October.

In many of the refugee camps, the security situation remains dire. Women are fearful of leaving the camp to gather food after so many who tried have been beaten or raped. These women face a cruel choice: risk their own lives to gather food for their families or watch their children go hungry.

Even for those who are not languishing in refugee camps, extreme weather, including persistent drought and annual flooding in some areas, has forced people from their homes and adversely impacted food production, with fields unable to be harvested in some areas. Attacks on humanitarian truck convoys have also affected the timely deliveries of food aid to people in Darfur.  

On top of ongoing warfare, this year saw another major obstacle to easing hunger in Darfur. In March, the Sudanese government expelled 13 major international aid organizations from Sudan. The measure was announced after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Although the government did not fully enforce the expulsion order, the move delayed and undermined critical food aid initiatives. More than a third of the three million-plus refugees in Darfur were dependent on food from aid groups targeted by the expulsion order. These families are now at even greater risk for hunger and malnutrition.

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