This week South Sudan completed its first year of independence. Some people took the occasion to celebrate. Media worldwide reflected on the nation’s progress. But where is neighbouring Sudan one year later? While some young adults are making the best of their circumstances, malnutrition is making life difficult – if not impossible – for the youngest.
By Ilona Eveleens, Gidel
Ten-year-old Leila Suleiman is in hospital recuperating after an accident that left her arm broken. “I fell out of the tree because I was weak. I climbed it to pick some wild fruits to ease my hunger,” she says. She had walked more than a hundred kilometres to the Nuba Mountains’ only functioning hospital, located in the remote area of Gidel. On the way, her arm became infected and needed to be amputated upon arrival.
Leila’s situation – the dearth of food afflicting her and many others – is the result of the yearlong war in the area. The Nuba Mountains cover most of the Sudanese state of South Kordofan.
The Nuba rebels accuse the government in the capital of Khartoum of marginalizing and suppressing the mountain’s inhabitants. Meanwhile, more than 150,000 refugees from South Kordofan and the neighbouring Blue Nile state, where a war also rages on, have trekked over the border to camps in South Sudan.
“We are getting more and more cases of malnutrition into the hospital,” says Tom Catena. The American man is the only physician in the Nuba Mountains. “Recently, three children died. They were so weak that they contracted other diseases which caused their deaths. But also a significant number of adults have been admitted.”
Getting food and other goods into the mountainous region is difficult. Most roads are now impassable due to the start of the long and heavy rainy season. Insecurity caused by bombardments and shelling by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have also precluded aid from coming in on a large scale.
War is not new to the Nuba people. In 1989, their fighters took the side of the South Sudanese rebels in their battle against Khartoum. After a long siege of the mountainous region, famine broke out. Pressure by the international community brought a ceasefire in 2002 between Khartoum and the Nuba.
Making the best
Twenty-five-old Latmer Kochollo is a living example of the turmoil the region has experienced. “I was born during the first war and really enjoyed peace. I went to school and broadened my horizon. The future looked so bright,” he recalls. “But now school is closed because of the bombings by Khartoum. I only managed to finish form four.”
Latmer says he misses the freedom of movement he once had. Many vehicles are not working, while others are used by the resistance army and it’s hard to get fuel. Most people walk, sometimes for days, to reach their destination.
And yet, Kochollo found a job at Voice of Peace, the only radio station in the Nuba Mountains, which is operated by the Catholic Diocese of El Obeid. “At least I have some interesting work to do and earn an income,” he says.
Also grateful to be employed is Elisabeth Ismail. The 26-year-old studied now works as a presenter of a women’s programme at the radio station . “I’m happy I got a job,” she says. “It gives fulfilment in a life that is tough. I sometimes even have a laugh with my colleagues.”
However, Elisabeth, who grew up in the city of El Obeid and studied art at a university there, had no intention to land where she did. As the now internally displaced person explains: “I came to visit my sister here in Gidel when the war broke out. I can’t go back. I can’t even talk on the phone with my parents, and only manage to get a message now and then across to them.”