Terror in Sudan

Here in Sudan's Nuba Mountains the war isn't nearly over. It's escalating as skirmishes between north and South Sudan become bigger battles. The war is widening and more people are dying - and one day we will ask whether we did enough to stop it.

Shrapnel from a bomb blast has ripped away half the boy's face. "Don't cry", says his father as his crying child Sabir has his wounds dressed. 'Don't cry,' he says to his 11-year-old son. "It's nearly over", soothes his dad Abdu.

Here in Sudan's Nuba Mountains the war isn't nearly over. It's escalating as skirmishes between north and South Sudan become bigger battles. The war is widening and more people are dying - and one day we will ask whether we did enough to stop it.

I'm haunted by what I saw at the Mother of Mercy - the hospital that sits at the heart of this war - where Sabir's life was saved last month.

People are rushed in here with all the flesh of their legs in ribbons and exposed bone from Iranian-supplied anti-personnel mines; kids with their limbs torn away by explosions; advanced gangrene and a baby weeping from the socket of an eye that has been destroyed by a flying metal splinter.

It's all happening now, in an almost forgotten war in the 21st Century.

Since I left Nuba, people have asked me what can be done. People say, "What can we do?" My answer at this stage of the game is, I don't know.

What more do we do to apprehend Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir now that he's using his air force to bomb Nuba civilians and deliberately generate a famine in order to starve them into flight or submission? Bashir is already wanted in the Hague for war crimes committed nearly a decade ago in Darfur - but nobody's arrested him.

Do we intervene - impose a no-fly fly zone - or ask international aid workers to run the gauntlet of Bashir's blitz in order to deliver aid despite Khartoum's ban on all deliveries of food supplies, medicines - even vaccines for babies?

Do we politely ask China to cease buying oil from Bashir's Sudan - because this is indeed a conflict that's partly about oil.

What do we do to embarrass the mandarins at United Nations headquarters in New York - you know, the ones who said "never again" after Rwanda 1994. After all we've been through for a generation, do we really believe the UN is competent or capable to rise to the challenge?

Or should we wave news of the war away, say that after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan that we have our problems to sort out, and the Africans must tackle their own - since after all they always complain when we intervene?

I don't know. I have no clear solutions for you. What I know is this. The Mother of Mercy at Gidel was constructed for 80 beds. Now it's the only hospital serving more than a million Nuba people living in rebel-held areas encircled by the government forces of President Bashir.

In Gidel there are 500 in patients now. They sleep three to a bed. They spill into tents outside. A shanty refugee camp has sprouted outside the compound. Many are the war wounded, casualties of gunfire, missiles, landmines, tank blast - but most of all Bashir's aerial bombardments.

I ask the only doctor in the hospital how many victims of Bashir's Antonov aircraft bombings are civilians. ''About 80%... 20% are soldiers," says Tom Catena, an ex-US Navy surgeon, an upstate New Yorker and lay missionary.

Tom's the only qualified surgeon for this million plus population in the Nuba Mountains.

Some are patients you might see in peacetime - new mothers, cancer patients - but so many others are malnourished children or kids dying of starvation-related illnesses. I even met an elderly man who had resurgent leprosy - now, in the 21st Century - because there were no drugs to treat him. Leprosy drugs, you see, are supplied only to governments - and Khartoum has stopped the supply of all medicines to the civilians of Nuba.

The images I saw in the overflowing wards while rushing after Dr Catena return to me in my days and in my waking sleep. How can Dr Catena bear it? This American doctor hasn't left the hospital compound a single time since the fighting started in June 2011. I ask "Why do you stay?" We know Khartoum's forces would probably murder him if they captured this place.

"There's not another option," he says. "What are your options? You leave and abandon everyone here or you stay and keep going ahead."

Catena has meticulously kept a record of all the war injuries he's operated on. Last month they totaled 719 in nine months, all tackled by one surgeon. Out in the rural areas people die or they're treated with salt and water and traditional herbs since there are no antibiotics, anaesthetics or disinfectants. Here the one refrigerator's broken down and the drugs are running out, but Catena's still working. Most of his medical staff evacuated last year because of the war, and the people who now work with him are mainly students who walked in off the street with a wish to learn on their feet about how to save their own people.

Even if we wanted to, we can't all be Dr Tom Catena. But in a world of hand ringing pundits, diplomats, leaders and aid workers - a true hero like this gives me the only clarity I need to understand what is right.

Terror in Sudan broadcasts at 7.30pm on Friday, 13th April -- and the film can thereafter be viewed here. Also, information on how you can assist the hospital at Gidel can be found at the Channel 4 website.


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