Aisha T. and her family fled the war in the Nuba Mountains, but the violence continues to overshadow the daily lives of her two daughters.
“Zeinab (13) screams while asleep and wakes up crying, while Mariam (4) suffers malnutrition and measles,” said Aisha, who now lives in Yida Camp, Unity State, South Sudan.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a nurse at the camp said that many children suffered severe psychological problems. She said Zeinab was traumatised by government warplanes which repeatedly bombed her local region, leaving her and her family to cower among the rocks. These images recur to her in her nightmares, the nurse explained.
“Zeinab (13) screams while asleep and wakes up crying.”
The child was in need of special psychological treatment unavailable in the camp, the nurse said, adding that most children suffered bedwetting, fear, skin diseases and malnutrition.
According to the camp’s health affairs coordinator the camp’s two health centres were stretched, catering for 70,000 refugees and receiving, on average, 700 refuges a day.
Human tragedies abound in the camp. One camp resident, who only wanted to be identified as H. N., told how her sister and 17 other girls were intercepted by government forces while they were collecting water and wood in the region of Mandel in Dalang city. The security forces took them to the army camp where they were gang-raped and then released the next morning. Following the attack, her sister suffers from recurrent nightmares, lack of appetite and diarrhoea.
Women and children take the brunt of psychological and human tragedy. Last October the American organisation “Enough” conducted a study on children in the Nuba Mountains. In its survey of 2,467 children aged between six months and five years, the study concluded that 14.9 percent of the children suffered severe malnutrition, and the families of 81.5 percent of them got one meal a day only.
The organisation said its team could not access the worst affected zones, due to army controls. Melissa Fleming, the UNHCR Spokesperson, said some 430 refugees have been arriving at Yida Camp every day.
A UNICEF employee said most children arriving at the camp suffered measles which was an epidemic especially under the poor conditions refugee children lived in.
“Noise of shells and planes generate unparalleled fear among children.”
“Aerial bombardments and the resulting noise of shells and planes generate unparalleled fear among children,” said Dr. Bashar A. adding that they could spark mental problems.
Meanwhile, refugees at the camp are still at risk. International agency Oxfam last year warned that camps were ticking time bombs, at risk of a major disease outbreak. In February, the UNHCR spokesman said that Hepatitis E killed 111 out of 6,017 infected refugees.
The Ministry of Health in South Sudan, in cooperation with WHO and UNHCR, has said that the populations are at risk of diseases including measles, malaria and diarrhoea.
Dr. Daniel B., a retired doctor working from Juba as a consultant for an organisation to support Nuba refugees, said Nuba children were exposed to an onslaught resembling genocide and urged help from the international and regional community. Among the children he met, he said many looked older than their years and could no longer smile.
On the other hand, Sudan’s Ministry of Welfare and Social Security took the opposite opinion, saying that the situation was reassuring. According to a report by Sudanese Media Centre, published in February, a survey by the ministry concluded that “the number of affected citizens amounted to 29,395 or 11% of total population”.
According to the survey, conducted in 11 regions, only 13% of the children under the age of five suffer malnutrition. The survey praises government efforts, stating that 83 percent of the children are now above malnutrition level thanks to government interventions.
“There is no food or medicine, and relief organisations are prevented from visiting them.”
For his part, Arnu Ngutulu Lodi spokesman for the SPLM-North, the militant organisation which is banned in Sudan, denied the government claims and called on the international community to rescue the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile people. He criticised the Sudanese policy of preventing rescue organisations accessing the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile and argued the government was engaged in a systematic genocide against the citizens.
Lodi’s viewpoint chimes with the experience of A. N., a human rights activist from the Nuba Mountains, who said the North Government was using foods as a weapon to fight Nuba citizens. “This is a systematic holocaust; the government wants to commit genocide against the people of the Nuba Mountains. There is no food or medicine, and relief organisations are prevented from visiting them.”
A. N. stressed that Article 8 (2)-(B) 25 of the International Criminal Court Law stated that intentionally using starvation of citizens as a method of warfare was a war crime. He compared the Nuba Mountains tragedy with a holocaust. “There are mass graves, killings, raping and starvation,” he explained.
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