The regime of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir is bombing civilians in the rebel controlled Nuba Mountains. Those who escape aerial bombardment unscathed face yet another hazard – a perilous shortage of food.
When 20-year-old Jamal Abdhallah and his two brothers heard the roar of the engines of the approaching Antonov bomber, they ran for their lives. The first bomb missed them, landing in the middle of the field leading up to their house.
On entering the house, Abdullah told his mother, already taking cover behind the family's supply of food with his grandmother and two sisters, that he preferred to wait outside. "When the bomb hits the house we are all dead, when I stay outside at least of one of us will be alive," he said.
A moment later there was a dull thud, followed by a thick cloud of smoke.
"I heard him shout," his mother recalls a week later. "When I managed to get out of the house, I found him in a pool of blood. Both of his legs were gone. I tried to bring him in, but he was too heavy to carry," she said, quickly brushing away a tear from her right eye with the palm of her hand.
Foxholes offer limited protection
She remembers screaming for help until a neighbor arrived. He brought her son to St Mary's Hospital in Kumbor, one of two hospitals in the region. But it was too late. Jamal Abdhallah died of his injuries at 7 pm on May 15, 2013.
This was not an isolated incident. There are frequent air raids in the Nuba mountains in the south of the Republic of Sudan. At the hospital, Jamal Abdhallah is registered as the 1040th person to have been admitted with war wounds. He is 135th to have an "A" placed before his name, the "A" standing for Antonov, the Russian aircraft with which the Sudanese armed forces bomb their citizens.
Local residents have taken to building foxholes which afford some protection against the air raids. Even the dogs and goats run for cover when they hear the sound of the Antonov's engines.
Dr Tom Catena, a 49-year-old US citizen, has been running St. Mary's Hospital since May 2008 and is one of the few foreign nationals living in the Nuba Mountains.
He is clearly upset by the thought that he is living through a crisis which the rest of the world appears to be ignoring. "It's frustrating that this humanitarian catastrophe is happening under the radar of the international community," he said.
Walking briskly through the wards of his overcrowded hospital, Catena explained that victims of bomb attacks are often hit by pieces of metal. "If they live nearby they are brought here, but it is often too late. Some live a week's walk away from here and die on the way to hospital without anyone ever knowing."
"Saw immediately that she was dead"
In Marnyang, a village just outside Kauda, 38-year-old Yousif Omar stands in the smoldering rubble of his brother's house. On the previous day, an Antonov dropped 12 bombs on the premises killing his six-year-old niece, Nasreen Khalid. She was hiding in a foxhole with her father and two brothers when the wall of the house fell on top of them.
Immediately after the attack, Omar rushed to his brother's house which was on fire. He helped him and his two sons out of the foxhole. Nasreed's body was covered with wounds, including a big hole in her head. "I saw immediately that she was dead," he said.
Amid the charred ruins, Nasreed's stepmother is sobbing against a crumbling mud wall. Nearby, a group of women are trying to salvage wheat and sorghum from the sand on the floor.
"They are trying to save what has been lost in the attack," said Omar, looking across at the women. "The food supply was affected in the attack and there is not enough for us to survive in the coming months. This morning I went to the market to sell off one of our cows to buy food," he said.
Famine created deliberately
In the village of Luwere, 42-year-old Samira Adam Tutu, a local women's leader, said the current year has been the most difficult since the war began. "Last year, I mixed the little food I had with leaves, but now I have nothing. Occasionally, I get some from my neighbors, but they also don't have enough to survive the coming months. If no help comes in the next few weeks, I'm afraid that I will starve to death," she said.
Mubarak Bolus Tutu is the commissioner of Heiban, which has a population of 217,000 and is one of the largest of South Kordofan's fourteen provinces. "The famine in the Nuba mountains is being deliberately created by the government to expel the Nuba from Sudan," he said.
"During the sowing and harvest seasons, the fields are bombarded to frustrate food security," he explained. "In the periphery (of the mountains), soldiers and Arab militia destroy villages, food supplies and water pumps. Most farms were destroyed by the Antonovs last year and at this moment we are starting to feel the effects of it. Next month we expect a famine to break out, just like last year."
Mubarak Bolus Tutu speaks in a quiet, controlled manner that doesn't entirely mask the anger and helplessness he evidently feels.
"Only the UN is able to bring food supplies to prevent a major famine. But they work only in areas that are controlled by the Sudanese army. (President Omar) al-Bashir allows no help in regions held by the SPLA-N (Sudan People's Liberation Army-North)," he said.
The UN Security Council has failed to reach agreement on condemning the violence in the Nuba mountains or on taking measures to prevent it.
The Sudanese Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs says humanitarian aid is not necessary because the situation in territories occupied by rebels is "at a normal level," implying that the humanitarian crisis does not exist.
Aid agencies say tens of thousands of refugees have fled the Nuba Mountains since the fighting began in June 2011.