Operation Lifeline Sudan
- Correspondence to: Dr S D Taylor-Robinson, Gastroenterology Unit, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London W12 0NN;
- Accepted 4 May 2001
- Revised 3 May 2001
The provision of aid in war zones can be fraught with political difficulties and may itself foster inequalities, as it is rare to be allowed access to civilians on both sides of a conflict. Over the past decade, a United Nations (UN) brokered agreement has allowed Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), a UN “umbrella” organisation, to provide the diplomatic cover and operational support to allow long term humanitarian and emergency food aid to both the government and the rebel sides in the long-running south Sudanese civil war. Over the years, the destruction of infrastructure in the country has meant that the provision of basic health care has been seriously hampered. Operation Lifeline Sudan has coordinated the work of most of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), working in this part of Africa. Each NGO has had responsibility for a particular area of the country and has worked closely with the local Sudanese authorities on either side of the conflict, conforming to strict codes of conduct or “ground rules”, based on neutrality. Operation Lifeline Sudan has provided an air-bridge for emergency relief supplies in regions where road access is impossible, either because of landmines, or simply because the roads do not exist. The war continues, however, and the underlying causes of war—economic exploitation, marginalisation of communities, lack of political representation, and systematic violence and abuse remain unsolved. The warring factions have brought some OLS operations in south Sudan to a standstill recently, for certain political reasons that could have compromised the neutrality of the OLS-coordinated humanitarian aid schemes. It would appear that the only resolution to the country's problems are external political pressure to get the respective combatants to negotiate and, less probably, an undertaking by countries of the developed world not to continue to supply arms. Nevertheless, OLS may serve as a model for how medical aid can be delivered in an even-handed way to the populations of countries where there is civil war, irrespective of where they may live.