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World - Africa

Despite aid effort, Sudan famine squeezing life from dozens daily

Starving children in Ajiep campground  
CNN's Catherine Bond reports on the famine in Sudan
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AJIEP, Southern Sudan (CNN) -- This is the destination for thousands of starving Sudanese who journey from areas throughout famine-stricken Bahr al-Ghazal in search of food.

Ajiep is a purgatory -- a campground for more than 7,000 malnourished people, naked or clothed in rags, who await food, or certain death.

Some officials estimate at least 12 people a day die from starvation. Other reports have put the estimate at more than 100 deaths a day.

Aduta Aboim, her parents and two brothers walked miles to reach Ajiep, but when they arrived on Tuesday at the feeding center run by the international charity Medicins Sans Frontieres, the center was full.

Aduta and her entire family perished by Wednesday.

The 15-year civil war between the government and southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army has wrecked the region's limited infrastructure, making it difficult or impossible for millions of dollars in aid to reach the hungry.

being measured
Children are turned down if they are taller than this stick, regardless of how hungry they are  

Measuring up for food

With not enough food to go around, aid workers sometimes use a stick to determine who eats. Smaller, weaker children are given dry cereal. Those taller than the stick are turned away.

"There are so many children arriving every day," one nurse said. "If I didn't just focus on the job in front of me I would break down."

Food deliveries do not come often to Ajiep. The United Nations air dropped aid last week for the first time in 40 days.

Most of the thousands of tons of food that comes to Southern Sudan each month is air dropped. On the ground, aid workers armed with short-wave radios and satellite telephones try to organize distribution.

But moving the food once it's on the ground is difficult. Infrastructure has been wrecked by drought and a 15-year civil war. In some areas, it can take nearly an hour to drive a mere 10 miles (15 km).

"We know that there is among the population, stealing going on because there's only a certain population that's getting the food," Malini Morzaria, of Medicins Sans Frontieres, told CNN. "We know that the vulnerable that are arriving every day are not getting food."

The rain has come too late  

Weather worries

One would think that a recent spate of heavy rain would be a relief in this dry, barren region. It's not.

The rain has come too late in the season for people to plant crops.

And aid workers fear the rain could lead to a cholera epidemic in Ajiep because of the thousands of weak people who are sleeping outside without proper sanitation.

"With the rains, the number of people and no places to stay it is a catastrophe waiting to happen," said Lindsey Davies of the World Food Program.

A third round of talks aimed at ending the conflict between the Sudanese government and the rebels is due to start next week in the Ethiopian capital, the Ethiopian government said Thursday. The two sides last talked in May.

Correspondent Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.

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