Starvation of "apocalyptic" proportions is endangering as many as 11 million Sudanese, but Sudan's military government is blocking international food deliveries, U.S. relief officials said yesterday.
Administration officials, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, said Sudan's government refused to recognize the danger and has derailed a U.S.-led rescue effort under U.N. auspices that would have saved many Sudanese from hunger.
"The government in Khartoum has been increasingly indifferent if not overtly hostile to the relief efforts," said Andrew Natsios, the administration's top relief official.
Due to drought and civil war, this year's harvest could fall short by as much as 1 million metric tons, leaving up to 8 million Sudanese to starve, he said.
Other relief organizations put the number of those in danger as high as 11 million, said Roger Winter, director of the private U.S. Committee for Refugees.
Natsios, director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, called the situation "apocalyptic," and warned that unless remedies are found, far more will die than the estimated 250,000 Ethiopians who died of hunger in a 1984 famine.
About 75 percent of the Sudanese at risk live in government-held territory, and the rest in rebel-held lands in southern Sudan.
U.S. officials accuse the government, which took power in a military coup 16 months ago, of preventing food from reaching the south where the Sudan's People Liberation Army (SPLA) has been fighting for autonomy since 1983.
The SPLA has also attacked relief planes and land convoys.
Sudanese planes last month bombed several towns in the south that serve as center of Operation Lifeline Sudan, prompting the United States to temporarily suspend its sales of wheat to the government and to recall Ambassador James Cheek for consultations.
The government has also prevented food supplies from reaching areas it controls and spurned U.S. urgings to call for international help.
Natsios said the United States is willing to provide one-third of an emergency 300,000-ton food shipment, and added that about 50,000 tons of U.S.-donated food are already stored in Sudan.
But if the Sudanese government continues to block food distribution and spurn international help, he said, "we will not be able to respond in time if the call for help goes out after people start dying."