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9

Surviving the Sudanese conflict

Sudan is a vast, empty landscape - the most remote and inaccessible in all of Africa.

Sudan is a vast, empty landscape - the most remote and inaccessible in all of Africa.

There are few roads here, the terrain is made up of layers of rocky mountains, ochre and black against a wide blue sky.

Between the mountains runs a green flood plain. It gleams under the sun with the countless tributaries of the Nile threading their way through the papyrus swamps.

In the main channels where the water runs clear and deep, settlements of huts are dotted along the banks.

Here the Dinka and Nuer people live with their cattle, their hunting and their fishing - a way of life older even than the ancient Pharoahs from the north.

The war, though, is a modern one.

Its roots are complex, filled with all the angry ambiguities of our age. It is partly a conflict between the Arabised Muslims from the north and the Christian and African traditionalists in the south. It is a heritage of the colonial divisions, and it is also about the oil and other minerals that lie underneath the stark mountains.

Famine

But at the heart of the war is the Nile. Here, in this harsh, dry land of the Sahel, control of the water means survival.

Its seasons of flooding control the traditional cycle of life here, but with the disruption caused by nearly two decades of fighting, hundreds of thousands of people now depend on regular food aid.

In Panthou, a tiny village deep in rebel territory, we tried to find out what was happening in the war and to what extent famine had spread through the area.

On the ground, the heat surrounded us as people came to greet us at the airstrip.

One of the villagers, Akod, was assigned as our guide. He took us to where the bags of food aid had been piled up under a tree.

news.bbc.co.uk