Update No. 98/01 on ICRC activities in Sudan
12-05-1998 Operational Update No 98/01
Sudan's recent history has been beset by problems; drought, a sharply declining economy, civil unrest and, for the last 15 years, a civil war. What began as an armed uprising in the south against the government in Khartoum has developed over the years into a complex conflict in which factions have splintered and alliances shifted regularly. This fighting between the government and the opposition and between the factions themselves has had a devastating effect on the civilian population who often find themselves fleeing the fighting, their cattle slaughtered, their homes burned and their crops abandoned. Tensions between armed groups and clans are rife throughout the country as a whole.
The ICRC endeavours to limit the effects of the war on civilians by ensuring that they have access to emergency surgical care, basic health care, safe water supplies, the means to start anew when they are displaced and the opportunity to stay in touch with their relatives.
History of ICRC presence
The ICRC has been working in Sudan since 1978 and has maintained a permanent presence in Khartoum since 1984. Following a serious incident in November 1996 involving an ICRC plane and staff, field operations for expatriate staff were suspended. Nevertheless, the organization pursued a number of activities thanks to local field officers and the Sudanese Red Crescent (SRCS). During this transitional period, it:
- ran the ICRC surgical hospital in Lokichokio (northern Kenya) which has a capacity of 560 beds and admits an average of 150 people per month
- supplied life-saving essential drugs to Juba Teaching Hospital
- distributed Red Cross messages through the Red Crescent Society network of volunteers (some 70,000 messages are exchanged every year)
- enabled SRCS branches to operate in the conflictual areas of southern Sudan, such as along the eastern border with Eritrea and Ethiopia
- provided medical and non-food assistance to people affected by fighting. E.g. to 24,000 displaced people in Kassala near the eastern border with Eritrea last January
In January this year, the government formally withdrew the accusations levelled against the ICRC in 1996 and, in May, confirmation was received from all parties welcoming the immediate resumption of all ICRC field activities and providing the necessary security guarantees. Together, these measures will allow the ICRC to resume humanitarian aid flights to conflict-stricken areas and represent the first step towards a full resumption of ICRC field activities.
Once the new flight schedule is approved, ICRC staff will be able to assess the humanitarian situation first-hand in the regions affected by ongoing conflict and adverse climatic conditions. In the meantime, human, logistical and financial resources are being mobilized in order to launch the operations as they emerge.
As part of a two-pronged approach, the following activities will also be un derway:
- distribution of health and relief assistance as and where required
- assessment of the general public health situation and existing medical structures. Sick and wounded to be evacuated to Lokichokio as and where appropriate
- assessment and launch of water and sanitation systems. One of the aims will be to stave-off potential cholera epidemics, frequent in May and June.
- visits to people detained in relation with the conflict and an assessment of detention conditions
A thorough survey of humanitarian needs will be carried out during the course of the coming months in the different areas affected by the conflict. The ICRC will consequently adapt its plans and budget according to the needs identified.