This paper analyses the causes of the Bahr el Ghazal famine in 1998 as a chain of political, environmental, economical and social factors, as well as a failure of public action and early warning systems. The famine emerged from a long history of exploitation and repression by successive governments in the Sudan that aimed at destroying the lives of the civil population in Bahr el Ghazal region.
This process resulted in the considerable erosion of assets endowment of the civil population, and led them to become increasing vulnerable to exogenous shocks such as El-Nino. The intensification of fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan (GOS) during the critical months of cultivation in 1997 exacerbated further the level of vulnerability. The sorghum prices in the epicentre of the famine doubled and even quadrupled in some areas and ‘price ripple’ phenomenon was observed as markets failed to come to the famine victims.
The paper also analyses the role of institutions such as the SPLM, the UN and NGOs, and social structures, in the management of famine in 1998. The paper clearly shows that the poor management of the famine in 1998 was largely related to the poor quality of information generated by monitoring and early warning systems that resulted in divided opinion among the charity agencies about the severity of the humanitarian crisis. It was left to the western media to reveal the presence of the famine and trigger, though late, a massive international relief response.