NY Times Kristoff June 2, 2012


Starving Its Own Children

Dominic Nahr/Magnum Photos

hungry children in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, sleeping inside a cave for
protection from government bombers.

June 2, 2012
Winter/The New York Times

D. Kristof

PERHAPS hundreds of thousands of people here have no food and are
reduced to eating leaves and insects, as Sudan’s government starves and bombs
its own people in the Nuba Mountains. Children are beginning to die.

“Yes, my children may die,” Katum Tutu, a 28-year-old mother, told
me. She recently lost her 2-year-old daughter, Maris, to starvation and has
nothing to feed her four remaining children. “I think about it every day, but
there’s nothing I can do,” she said.

This week will mark a year since Sudan began its brutal
counterinsurgency campaign in the Nuba Mountains, intended to crush a rebel
force that is popular here and controls much of the region. Sudan has expelled
aid workers, blocked food shipments and humanitarian aid, and dropped bombs
haphazardly — and almost daily — on its own citizens.

Sudan bars outsiders, but I sneaked in from South Sudan on a dirt
track controlled by rebels. Since my last visit, in February, the situation in
these areas has deteriorated sharply: a large share of families have run
completely out of food, with no prospect of more until the next harvest in

Ryan Boyette, an American aid worker who stayed behind when
foreigners were ordered to evacuate, estimates that 800,000 Nuba have run out
of food in South Kordofan, the state encompassing the Nuba Mountains. Boyette
has created a local reporting network calledEyes and Ears Nuba, and the
Sudanese government showed what it thinks of him when it tried to drop six bombs on his
house last month. The notoriously inaccurate bombs missed, and he escaped
unhurt in his foxhole.

Katum, the woman who lost her daughter, was typical of the dozens
of Nuba I spoke to. Like many here, the family has been living in caves for
most of the last year to escape bombs, and it ran out of the local food staple,
sorghum, a few months ago.

She was blunt about the reason her daughter died: “We had no food
to give her.”

Her husband and surviving children showed me how they use bows and
arrows to try to shoot birds, and how they try to catch mice. “We eat them
whole,” Katum told me. “Even the head and the tail.”

Families are also eating beetles and wild roots, but their diet
today is mostly the newest leaves of three kinds of wild tree. New leaves are
stripped bare from trees near villages, and you see children climbing high on
thin branches to try to find new leaves that remain.

I also came across small children, sometimes just 2 or 3 years
old, digging in the ground for edible roots or seeds that they popped in their

Some 50,000 people have fled their homes and are trekking to Yida,
a refugee camp just across the border in South Sudan. But many I spoke to,
Katum included, say they just don’t have the strength to walk for days to get

“There’s no way we can get there,” Katum told me. “So it is much
better to stay and die here.”

At that point, our interview was interrupted by a humming
overhead: an Antonov bomber, flying unusually low.

Katum scrambled off, seeking a cave in case a bomb fell. Antonov
and MIG warplanes regularly fly over these rebel areas, dropping bombs without
any apparent purpose other than sowing terror. Fear of them has kept people
from farming and is a main reason for the food shortages.

Some farmers are now planting their fields as the rainy season
begins. They can harvest in November and will have to get by on leaves until

Many other families, including Katum’s, ate their seed stockpile
in hopes of keeping their children alive. So for them, the only hope is
humanitarian aid.

Considering how many people are subsisting on leaves, perhaps the
surprise is that the death toll isn’t higher. In Katum’s village, Famma, elders
told me that about 40 people had starved to death in the last month, out of a
population of thousands. Among children arriving at the Yida refugee camp,
about 10 percent are acutely malnourished, according to Samaritan’s Purse, an
aid group assisting the refugees.

World leaders are mostly turning a blind eye. There isn’t even
serious talk about damaging the military airstrips that Sudan’s warplanes take
off from before dropping bombs on civilians, or about forcing a humanitarian
corridor, or about arranging airdrops of food. As a result, the only certainty
is that many Nuba will starve to death in the coming months.

President Obama, you harshly
criticized President Bush
for failing to stand up to Sudan’s
slaughter in Darfur. So now what are you going to do as Sudan kills again — on
your watch?


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About This Column

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Broader Conflict Is Feared as Fighting Breaks Out on the
(June 6, 2011)

in Opinion

Nicholas D. Kristof: Dodging Bombers in Sudan (February
2, 2012)
D. Kristof: Obama’s Failure in Sudan
(August 29, 2010)


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