Kordofan and Blue Nile: Sudan’s Unpublicised Famine

By Baruch Solomon, 12th March 2012

There’s a possible famine brewing in two regions of Sudan that few people have heard about. It isn’t caused by drought, climate change or even a bad harvest, and nobody is planning to organise a rock concert to help the victims. If the international community doesn’t act soon however, up to quarter of a million people could be at risk. (1)

The areas under threat are South Kordofan and Blue Nile, two states next to Sudan’s border with newly independent South Sudan.(1) Their combined population is estimated to be around two million and the area they cover is a little larger than England and Wales combined. In both states, most people are dependent on cattle rearing and subsistence agriculture for their survival. (2) (3) The reason for the current crisis is the displacement of a civilian population by ongoing civil conflict. The humanitarian threat has been exacerbated by the intransigence of the Sudanese government with regard to allowing international aid agencies into the region. (4)

Last year South Sudan gained full independence from Sudan under the provisions of the 2005 United Nations Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Under the same provisions, the future of the disputed territories of Kordofan and Blue Nile were to be decided by “popular consultation” but details of the processes by which this would be realised were not clearly laid out. The status of these areas has proved highly controversial owing to the diverse allegiances, ethnicities, cultural identities and loyalties of their indigenous populations. They are also areas that both Sudan and South Sudan have an interest in controlling, since South Korddofan is an important oil producing area, whilst Blue Nile has valuable mineral resources. (5)

Civil conflict broke out in last June in South Kordofan and in September in Blue Nile between the Sudanese armed forces (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army North (SPLA-N) whom Sudan accuse of being backed by the Government of South Sudan. As a result of the conflicts, hundreds of thousands of civilians have either been forced to flee their homes or have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.(5)

Being internally displaced means not being able to grow food. This means that many of those who have been forced from their homes are unable to provide adequately for themselves or their families. According to Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, the food crisis will have reached Level Four(6), amounting to a humanitarian emergency characterised by ‘Severe lack of food access with excess mortality, very high and increasing malnutrition, and irreversible livelihoods asset stripping’.(7)

At the time of writing, negotiations are ongoing with regard to gaining access to the region, but contingency plans are already being discussed for accessing the affected areas by crossing the border from South Sudan. There is reluctance to make such a move however, since it is liable to anger the Sudanese authorities, thus threatening already uncertain cooperation from Sudan over future issues.(4)

As is nearly always the case with civil conflicts in Sudan, the situation is not black and white. Both the Sudanese Army and rebel forces have a long history of crimes against civilians, including the manipulation of aid supplies to gain military advantage. Similarly, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan have both been guilty of war crimes and gross human rights violations.(1) There may be various reasons why Sudan chooses not to let international agencies into the affected area. The nation may be worried that some supplies will end up in rebel hands. Its leadership may be afraid of allowing international observers to report on events as they unfold in the conflict areas. Regardless, there is no justifiable reason for denying food and medical aid to hundreds of thousands of ordinary human beings caught up in the conflict.

Nine hundred years ago, there was no United Nations and no such thing as an internationally recognised system of humanitarian law. Nevertheless, Jewish philosopher and scholar Maimonides explicitly stated that when besieging a city, it should only be surrounded on three sides, so that non-combatants can choose to flee with their lives intact.(7) The nature of war may have changed since medieval times, yet starving one’s enemy into submission whilst paying no heed for civilian life is still a tactic utilised by some regimes. Certainly, it is difficult to think about Sudan’s blocking humanitarian access to civilian populations without being reminded of this age-old principle.


  1. Alertnet (2012) Analysis: Looming Famine in Sudan? [online] Available from [accessed 19th February 2012]
  2. Wikipedia (2012) South Kordofan [online] Available from wiki/South_Kordofan [Accessed 19th February 2012]
  3. Wikipedia (2012) Blue Nile State [online] Available from wiki/Blue_Nile_State [Accessed 19th February 2012
  4. Crisis Group (2012) African Union must pressure Sudan Sudan to allow food aid into Kordofan and Blue Nile [online] Available from http://www.crisisgroup org/en/regions/africa/horn-of-africa/sudan/african-union-must-pressure-sudan-to-allow-food-aid-into-kordofan-and-blue-nile.aspx [Accessed 19th February 2012]
  5. Small Arms Survey (2011) Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment [online] Available from [Accessed 22nd February 2012]
  6. Unifeed (2012) UN/Sudan Famine [online] Available from [Accessed 22nd February 2012]
  7. Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (2012) IPC in Brief [online] Available from [Accessed 22nd February 2012]
  8. Alertnet (2012) Analysis: Looming Famine in Sudan? [online] Available from [accessed 19th February 2012]
  9. My Jewish Learning (2012) War_and_Peace/Combat_and_Conflict/Ethics_of_Jewish_War.shtml [accessed 19th February 2012]