For more than a decade the people of the Nuba Mountains have been waiting for this moment as they have been desperate for humanitarian relief. They have been denied the right to assistance due to the Government of Sudan (GoS) policy of preventing access to the international humanitarian agencies to the area.
During this period pressure from many international humanitarian and human rights organisations, governments, International Nuba Co-ordination Centre (INCC) and the Nuba Relief Rehabilitation and Development Organisation (NRRDO) was mounted on the Government to allow access to the Nuba Mountains. In May 1998 Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary General intervened and asked the Khartoum Government to allow access for Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) to go to the Nuba mountains and make an assessment of the humanitarian situation.
However, it took the GoS more than a year to fulfil its promise and allow the first Humanitarian Mission to go ahead in June 1999 which was followed by a second UN-Humanitarian Mission that visited the area three months later.
The second assessment mission report was presented on 9 November 1999 to the Sudanese Government and Sudan People’s liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) which predicated a sizeable food deficit would occur by next May in the region.
The report also revealed the appalling health conditions, and lack of immunization and clean water which mean many thousands of Nuba children are susceptible to risk of epidemic outbreaks of viral infections.
In addition there are no roads or educational infrastructure in the entire region. The report indicated that the on-going war over the past years had led to acute food shortages by denying the people access to fertile land, a whole generation of children had been deprived of schooling and are a large number of internally displaced Nuba people are found in both Government and SPLA/M areas.
The mission found also a high concentration of the displaced people near major towns, "living in very poor conditions, with little access to income-generation options and with limited assistance from international aid community". The report finally recommended humanitarian intervention to all areas of the Nuba Mountains.
The United Nations Representative Office in Khartoum and Geneva tried every avenue available to implement the recommendation of the Assessment Team to deliver food aids to the Nuba people but with no success as the Government put many obstacles to prevent OLS from operating in the Nuba Mountains. This obviously led to the frustration of the UN Humanitarian Representative in Khartoum and an appeal to the international community to intervene. Ross Mountain wrote, "I would like to draw your attention to the matter of humanitarian access to the SPLM-controlled areas of the Nuba Mountains in the Sudan which poses a serious concern to the international humanitarian community."
This had become a dilemma for UN Humanitarian Representative in Khartoum as only limited access was given until last November when US Presidential Envoy former Senator John Danforth visited Sudan and chose the Nuba Mountains to be a "test case" and a key for peace in Sudan.
He made four action proposals to end the 18 year civil war in Sudan, including a one month truce in Nuba Mountains, the creation of zones and times of "tranquillity" where humanitarian efforts can go forward, continuous access to the Nuba Mountains for relief purposes and the cessation of bombing and military attacks on civilians and kidnapping of civilians. Danforth’s attention to the Nuba Mountains immediately put the Nuba issue right to the top of the international agenda.
During the original four-week period of tranquillity the people in the Nuba Mountains appear to have enjoyed relative peace as the World Food Programme (WFP) managed to drop over 2000 metric tones of food in a relatively short period of time, completed towards the end December.
Now the Cease-fire Agreement - signed on 19 January by both Government and SPLA and monitored internationally - will hopefully allow a constant flow of international relief into the area and perhaps some development would start during this six-month period.
In addition, the Polio immunisation programme, suspended nearly two years, will now be reinstated as well as measures to control Guinea worm and Rinderpest in cattle.
Prior to the Cease-fire Agreement, a joint US-UN assessment team, including representatives from the Khartoum Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) began assessment for aids need such as health and educational requirements as well as food security in the Nuba Mountains.
The team went to Kadugli, Dilling, Heiban, Rashad, Abu-Jubayhah and Talodi as well the areas under SPLA control. A preliminary report indicated that the mission was completed successfully.
What is most needed now is the implementation of these recommendations and rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure of education, heath services, roads, water, community development etc.