Sudan: communities in the south face violence and displacement, while people in Darfur still need support
Clashes in southern Sudan have killed hundreds and displaced thousands this year. Meanwhile, in Darfur, military operations have decreased markedly but banditry is on the rise. Jordi Raich Curco heads the ICRC’s operations in Sudan. He describes the situation and the organization's response.
Clashes between communities have been taking place in the south for a while now, especially in remote parts of Jonglei and Upper Nile states, in places like Akobo, Nasir and Pibor. The violence has claimed the liv es of at least 1,200 people and displaced more than 20,000 since the beginning of the year. Civilians, especially women and children, are increasingly becoming the target of attacks.
The rains arrived late this year, and too little rain fell, making life even harder for people forced to flee the clashes and the resident communities hosting them. People who were already very vulnerable are facing additional hardship, as many lost their livelihoods when they were forced to abandon their farmland. It is difficult for the government or humanitarian agencies to reach these people, as security is often volatile in these areas, the region is remote, the transport infrastructure is poor and the terrain becomes even more difficult to negotiate during the rainy season.
What is the ICRC doing to help people affected by the violence in southern Sudan?
So far, the ICRC has helped nearly 17,000 people in Akobo and Nasir and we are sending an assessment team to Pibor. These appear to be the three areas with the greatest needs.
In the first week of September, the ICRC distributed seed, tools and fishing kits donated by the Food and Agricultural Organization to around 15,000 displaced persons in Akobo, so they can regain their self-sufficiency and feed their families again.
A few days later, an ICRC barge brought in 22 tonnes of urgently needed supplies such as plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, clothes, soap, and other emergency household items. Meanwhile, an ICRC team repaired several water taps and fixed a pump that distributes drinking water to ten water points around the town.
In Nasir, an ICRC barge delivered seed, fi shing equipment and essential household goods to 1,500 people whose homes had been burned down during an attack in June.
Clashes in Pibor have also displaced communities and an ICRC team is currently in Pibor assessing their situation. The ICRC will decide what needs to be done there on the basis of the team’s findings.
Can you comment on reports about more Lord's Resistance Army attacks near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
New clashes and attacks started in December 2008 following the failure to sign a ceasefire between Uganda and the LRA. Attacks attributed to the LRA have targeted civilians in four countries: Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic. After a period of relative calm, fighting resumed at the end of July, with attacks on villages in the DRC’s Oriental Province and along the Central African Republic’s border with Southern Sudan. In Sudan, attacks in the towns of Ezo, Source Yubo and Tambura in Western Equatoria state led to displacement, loss of life and the destruction of property. According to United Nations figures, the fighting has resulted in the displacement of over 66,000 Sudanese and has forced nearly 17,000 Congolese to seek refuge in camps in southern Sudan since the beginning of this year.
The attacks separated families and the ICRC is tracing the relatives of over 100 Congolese child refugees, some of whom it has now reunited with their families in the DRC. ICRC teams have repaired water pumps and other water resources for Congolese refugees in Sakure, Sangua and Gangura, and similar resources for Sudanese displaced persons in Ezo and Naandi. In Makpandu, the ICRC donated a submersible pump to the UNHCR and drilled three new boreholes in Maridi. The ICRC also distributed essential household items to displaced families in those areas.
What is the ICRC's reading of the current situation in Darfur? Is it true that the conflict is over, as some organizations have recently stated?
There is still no ceasefire or peace agreement between the warring parties. That means that there is still an unresolved non-international armed conflict. However, the level of armed violence and the number of major military operations have decreased markedly compared to
2003 and 2004. There have been some encouraging signs, such as the participation of the ICRC in the handover to the Sudanese government of 60 prisoners held by the Justice and Equality Movement. Negotiations are taking place in various countries and we hope they will bring peace to Darfur.
Having said this, there have been a number of armed clashes in Darfur this year, resulting in new displacements of the population. The upsurge in banditry and crime is a cause of increasing concern. The people of the region suffer the most, but the aid agencies are also affected. There have been four kidnappings of humanitarian staff so far this year, and some of the victims are still being held. We should remember that these people all came to Darfur to help people affected by conflict.
Can the ICRC continue to work in Darfur despite the dangers?
Sudan continues to be the largest ICRC operation in the world. We do achieve a lot, despite the security and access problems. In addition to providing emergency assistance following armed confrontations, the ICRC is helping remote communities maintain their traditional livelihoods. This year, 400,000 people received seed and tools before the rainy season so they could grow t heir own produce. We also started a seed multiplication project in cooperation with agricultural research institutes in three cities. In remote nomadic areas of Darfur, we continue to organize the vaccination of up to 850,000 head of livestock against five major diseases.
Another priority is to give people access to drinking water in remote parts of the region, where our water and sanitation teams are renovating and maintaining rural and urban water points that serve over a quarter of a million people and training local water committees. We also provide health care for more than 90,000 people through ten ICRC-supported primary health-care centres in remote areas where such services are not available due to security and other problems. With the support of volunteers from the Sudanese Red Crescent, we are continuing to provide water, sanitation and a health centre for more than 131,000 displaced people in Gereida camp. With support from the British and Australian Red Cross Societies, we are looking after malnourished children through a therapeutic feeding programme at the nutrition centre.
The ICRC is also collecting and distributing hundreds of Red Cross messages containing simple family news across Darfur.
It is important to mention that the ICRC also monitors alleged violations of international humanitarian law and shares its findings confidentially with all parties to the conflict. At the same time, we remind them of their obligation to refrain from harming civilians during armed clashes.