12 June 2012

Ryan Boyette Explains How 800,000 Are Surviving on Leaves in the Nuba Mountains

Ryan Boyette is the founder of the Nuba Reports a citizen journalism group in Sudan's Nuba mountains with the goal of telling what is happening in the region. I wrote a post last week questioning his estimate, as reported by Nick Kristof, that 800,000 people sere surviving on plants and bugs. In my haste I did not seek his response, which was a big mistake on my part. Ryan wrote the following to me via Facebook in order to explain how he reached his estimate and I have reproduced it in whole with his permission. I am going to look closer into Ryan's numbers and write a follow up post in the coming days that I hope will include a further discussion on the topic.

Hello Mr. Murphy,

My name is Ryan Boyette who you quoted in your recent article as per Nicholas Kristof's Article. I would like to comment on the estimate that I made about food insecurity in Southern Kordofan. First I would like to say that if you would like to criticize the estimation that was made about the current food situation in Southern Kordofan I would have appreciated an email to ask how I came up with my estimation instead of just stating that it is an over estimation. My email is easily accessible and please feel free to write anytime with question that you may have.

I have been working in the humanitarian realm for the past 9 years all in Southern Kordofan so any estimation that I make is not just pulled from the air. Movement, communication and resources makes it extremely difficult to create a very accurate estimation in SK, Sudan. But there was a science behind it. In your blog post you state the 350,000 are displaced. I also contributed to this estimate as well. Let me explain how we reached our numbers.

1. 350,000 Displaced in the SPLA-N controlled areas of Southern Kordofan: We used the 2012 census by village, payam, boma and counties and determined the number of villages that were completely burned down in each region and considered the populations of those villages to be completely displaced. Then we took the number of bombings in each payam and considered a percentage of the population in those regions to be displaced based on how often the area was bombed. I would say about 300,000 of the 350,000 that are displaced were displace since June - August as the front line was not established yet and the people were the most vulnerable to bombings at that time as their houses were in the valleys.

2. 800,000 Facing serious food insecurity and malnutrition: Of the 350,000 displace non of them were able to plant last year at all. So that is 350,000 people without staple food. Then since most of these people have been displaced since June - August 2011 they have been living off of the food of the host Nuba communities that they are displaced in. So they have been pulling the food stocks of the host communities that were also not able to go to the far farms to plant much last year due to the bombing. So now these host families have also been out of food since approximately January. So if you consider that 1 person from a host community is out of food for every displaced person than that is an additional 350,000 people. But lets be conservative and say 300,000. So we are up to 650,000 people out of their normal staple food.

Now we need to consider the people that do not normally plant in Nuba that do other businesses before the war in areas that were not burned down. So you have shop owners, blacksmiths, drivers, restaurant owners, builders, mechanics and other kinds of jobs. Now most of these people had some money to buy food but the minute the war started the food price went up 5x as much as normal and really is not even available in the markets. So they were not able to purchase enough food for themselves and their families. They have now run out of food as well so considering the number of people in Nuba with these kind of jobs and their families we can estimate that they are around 50,000 people. So now we are up to about 700,000.

And finally the people that plant in Nuba that were not displaced due to ground fighting but had a poor harvest, could not go to their fields due to insecurity, or simply are poor and don't have enough land for planting. Or even the returnees from Khartoum from the last war that have over 10-15 years not planting and were not able to get a good harvest. We estimate that this group is around 100,000. So that puts us at 800,000.

Please also consider the Yida refugee camp that has seen a 133% increase in new arrivals over the past few weeks due to the lack of food. The camp is almost at 50,000 people that are walking up to 7 days to get to Yida. The people that are walking to Yida are the Nuba tribes that live the closest to Yida and are able to access the South. I am sure this number will reach 100,000 in the next 3 months. Most of the population in Nuba cannot reach Yida Refugee camp. There is no way for them to walk the distance so the majority of the people that need food are still in Southern Kordofan. Also, the people of Nuba don't want to leave their land. They are resilient and some would rather die than walk to Yida as they have told me.

I am seeing mass numbers of people collecting leaves, roots, tree sap and bugs every day even in the places that had the best harvest. Food is gone.

Mr. Murphy I hope this helps explain how I reached this estimate and the seriousness of the situation. I agree that the most important thing is getting aid to the people of Nuba as well as being precise and accurate.

Thank you and feel free to contact me any time.

Ryan Boyette