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Sudan: ICRC steps up preparations for possible humanitarian emergencies

26-11-2010 Interview

As the referendum in South Sudan approaches, the eyes of the world are turning once again towards the largest country in Africa. Daniel Duvillard, the ICRC's head of operations for East Africa, describes the organization's current activities in Sudan.

Daniel Duvillard

Many scenarios on the outcome of this referendum have been discussed publicly. What is the ICRC's point of view?    

The referendum on South Sudan's self-determination is the final phase of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan in 2005 to end the Second Sudanese Civil War. The agreement provides for two scenarios: unity or separation. We do not want to speculate on the outcome of the referendum and on what the future will bring, but we believe that both options bear the risk of armed violence. We are therefore strengthening our capacity to respond to any humanitarian emergencies that may occur.

How are you preparing for such emergencies?

We have increased our presence on both sides of the north-south border and have pre-positioned stocks so that we can respond to any urgent needs for shelter, household items, water or sanitation. We have also deployed a mobile surgical team that can either work in support of existing health facilities or treat weapon-wounded patients in remote areas with little or no access to such facilities. The ICRC has been working in Sudan for over 30 years, and since 2004 its operation there has been one of the ICRC's largest. We can therefore rely on experienced staff who know the context and on a substantial logistics set-up.

In parallel, we are supporting the Sudanese Red Crescent Society (SRCS) in their preparations for providing emergency assistance and first aid. Volunteers have participated in several ICRC workshops on how to provide water or manage dead bodies – including identification and burial. We have also introduced SRCS volunteers to the basics of international humanitarian law (IHL).

At the same time, we have been working on the promotion of IHL with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and have organized training courses or information sessions for 2,600 SPLA personnel and more than 700 SAF personnel since the beginning of 2010.

What are the ICRC's other priorities in Sudan?

While political efforts at local, regional and international levels are under way to reach a comprehensive solution to the armed conflict in Darfur, sporadic clashes continue and humanitarian needs still exist. We therefore wish to ensure that people still affected by the conflict receive emergency aid and are respected in accordance with international humanitarian norms. As in previous years, the ICRC continues to assist people in remote rural areas through a mix of agricultural, veterinary, water and health projects, in cooperation with the SRCS and local communities. These projects are also designed to help displaced persons and those who voluntarily return to their villages regain some degree of economic self-sufficiency.

In South Sudan, for instance, we have repaired the water supply system in Akobo, Jonglei state, where almost 20,000 people took refuge following violent clashes in 2009, and we are now upgrading the system. Further north in Pibor we distributed essential household items, such as tarpaulins, hygiene material, bedding and clothes, to residents and displaced people earlier this year. Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has supplied emergency household items to almost 12,000 people in Western Equatoria who have had to flee armed violence.

We also run more long-term programmes, for displaced farmers for instance. The ICRC provides agricultural implements and seed to those who can return to their fields, in order to boost agricultural production. This year alone, we have distributed 102 tonnes of seed and 10,000 agricultural implements to 30,000 farming families in southern Sudan, helping them to make a fresh start.

In addition, a large number of people in Sudan are now physically disabled as a result of conflict. The ICRC is therefore supporting rehabilitation centres in Juba, Nyala, Darfur and the capital Khartoum. Patients have access to a range of services and equipment such as upper and lower limb prosthetics, physiotherapy, crutches and wheelchairs. During the first ten months of this year, more than 2500 people benefited from our physical rehabilitation services.