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South Sudan: a new country facing major humanitarian challenges

08-02-2012 Operational Update No 12/01

After six months as an independent country, South Sudan still faces humanitarian challenges. The ICRC, working mainly in the volatile northern regions bordering Sudan, strives to ensure civilians are respected and the wounded are protected and receive treatment. It also provides aid for conflict-affected communities.

As South Sudan works to establish new institutions, violence and conflict continue to disrupt the lives of many people in the young country. "Communities affected by conflict are immensely vulnerable," said Michela Telatin, who heads the ICRC's delegation in Juba.

Owing to a dispute over the sharing of oil revenues, tension has erupted between Sudan and South Sudan. In addition, the South Sudanese army has been involved in clashes with armed groups operating in the north of the country. Ongoing fighting in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile has caused civilians to flee into South Sudan, while clashes in the Abyei area prior to secession caused thousands of people to flee across the Kiir River. Violence reached a particularly intense pitch in Jonglei state in January, generating large-scale displacement and hundreds of casualties. On the other side of the country, communities near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic still live in fear of armed-group attacks.

Health care

Malakal Teaching Hospital, the only referral hospital for the South Sudanese states of Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile, has a vast catchment area across the north of the country, much of it scattered with landmines and entirely cut off during the rainy season. The ICRC is increasing the hospital's surgical capacity by building a new operating theatre, overhauling existing buildings and upgrading the water system.

The ICRC's medical team provides emergency trauma care for wounded civilians and combatants, which can mean travelling to the scene of fighting to treat patients who could not be evacuated. Between July and December 2011, the team performed 350 trauma operations, including 235 on patients with weapon-related injuries, in Malakal Teaching Hospital. The team also trains local hospital staff to enhance surgical and paediatric services.

The ICRC donated wound-dressing materials, fluids, antibiotics and other supplies for the treatment of weapon-wounded patients to eight hospitals, including Wau, Bentiu, Bor, Malakal and Juba, and to five primary health-care clinics in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei.

Supporting the physically disabled

The Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre in Juba was opened by the ICRC in 2009 to provide specialist care for physically disabled people, and particularly to ensure ongoing care for landmine victims. Now co-managed with the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, the centre is the only one of its kind in the country. The ICRC funds training to international standards for South Sudanese prosthetists/orthotists and physiotherapists working at the centre.

In 2011, the centre admitted nearly 1,500 patients, of whom just over a thousand were amputees. It delivered 323 prosthetic limbs to amputees, of whom 91 lost a limb in an accident involving landmines or other explosive remnants of war. It also delivered 142 orthotic devices, 95 wheelchairs and 626 crutches and sticks. Physiotherapy services were provided for 728 patients.

The ICRC arranges transport to enable patients to reach the centre in Juba and will shortly open referral points in Malakal and Wau.

Maintaining family links

Refugees continue to return to South Sudan from the Sudanese states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. This is often not their first experience of fleeing their country; many spent years in camps in Ethiopia before returning home, only to find themselves on the move once again. For those now reaching Yida camp in Unity state and the Upper Nile camps of Doro and Jammam, a priority is to get back in touch with relatives from whom they were separated by the conflict. The ICRC helps maintain ties between family members by delivering Red Cross messages or making available phones for people to call back home.

In areas of the country bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, armed groups carry out sporadic attacks on civilians and abduct people, particularly children. The ICRC helps children who eventually find freedom, often far from home, to get back in contact with their families and be reunited with them. Between July and December 2011, the ICRC reunited 36 such children with their families in South Sudan.

Food and livelihood support for returnee and displaced communities

The ICRC helps people returning home and needing to re-establish themselves and regain self-sufficiency. In advance of the rainy season in 2011, the ICRC provided over 60,000 people with seed and tools, together with food rations, to ensure a decent harvest later in the year. Most of the people receiving aid were from Western Equatoria, returning home after having fled armed-group activity in the region.

In 2011, over 80,000 people living in conflict-affected areas received fishing kits and other essential items to help them build sustainable livelihoods. The ICRC also supports newly displaced families by providing emergency staple-food rations to ensure they can overcome the initial shock of leaving their homes and belongings behind. Between July and December 2011, more than 14,000 people in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el Ghazal received these rations.

Promoting animal health

Between July and December 2011, in cooperation with the Ministry of Animal Resources and Fisheries, the ICRC vaccinated over 160,000 head of cattle in Warrap state belonging to residents and people displaced from the Abyei area.

In addition, the ICRC provided 35 community animal-health workers with training in animal-disease prevention and treatment to promote best practice at community level. It also began to provide animal-health training for livestock keepers in Warrab.

Spreading knowledge of international humanitarian law

In South Sudan, the ICRC holds regular information sessions for the South Sudanese army and other armed groups in the areas where it is present in order to remind them of their obligation to adhere to the basic rules governing armed conflict. The organization also explains these rules to communities and civil-society groups and makes confidential representations to commanders, where necessary, when the rules are not upheld.

 

For further information, please contact:

Ewan Watson, ICRC Juba, tel: +249 912 178 946

Jean-Yves Clémenzo, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 21 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17


Photos

South Sudan. The ICRC's surgical team in Malakal operates on a patient with a gunshot wound. 

South Sudan. The ICRC's surgical team in Malakal operates on a patient with a gunshot wound.
© ICRC / E. Watson

South Sudan. Whatever their age, people need to be in touch with their loved ones. The ICRC makes phones available for those separated from their families to re-establish contact. 

South Sudan. Whatever their age, people need to be in touch with their loved ones. The ICRC makes phones available for those separated from their families to re-establish contact.
© ICRC / E. Watson

South Sudan. Working closely with communities, the ICRC holds confidential meetings with those responsible when civilian life and property are not respected.  

South Sudan. Working closely with communities, the ICRC holds confidential meetings with those responsible when civilian life and property are not respected.
© ICRC / E. Watson

South Sudan. Promoting the basic rules of combat to arms bearers in their field bases is an important way of building respect for civilians and protecting the wounded. 

South Sudan. Promoting the basic rules of combat to arms bearers in their field bases is an important way of building respect for civilians and protecting the wounded.
© ICRC / E. Watson