The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is urging North and South Sudan to end the violence between them and build a lasting peace. Renewed fighting between the two sides, ahead of South Sudan’s new Independence Day on July 9th, is raising fears of another civil war. The two sides fought a two-decade-long war which ended in 2005 with a Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
In a statement released Saturday, the Secretary-General said he is “alarmed at the deterioration of the security situation and escalation of fighting in Southern Kordofan, which has left thousands homeless…and the situation in Abyei and the fate of those affected by the conflict in the area.” On Sunday there was late word of a possible agreement for all military forces to be removed from Abyei.
The latest outbreak of violence in Sudan has brought hunger and large-scale displacement. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing food to conflict victims. In the Abyei Region, WFP says it has reached 91,717 displaced persons with rations. Almost 2,000 children have received plumpydoz, a special food to prevent dangerous malnutrition in children under five years of age.
Abyei is a disputed, oil-rich territory that sits right between North And South Sudan. The area was supposed to vote on whether to join the North or the South, but this never took place.
Following the seizure of Abyei by northern Sudanese troops on 20 May, armed elements have been burning buildings and looting in the town, actions that have been strongly condemned by the UN. Photo: UNMIS/ Stuart Price.
By 1 June, about 40,000 people displaced from Abyei after the town’s takeover by Sudan Armed Forces had been registered in the Abyei area, Unity State and the greater Bahr El-Ghazal region and were receiving humanitarian assistance. Photo: UNMIS/Issac Gideon.
The Abyei region also happens to have a high rate of child malnutrition. UNICEF says, “Even in normal times, this is a population with few resources to draw on. For example, health surveys conducted prior to the crisis revealed high levels of malnutrition among young children, a situation that is now certain to be aggravated.”
In South Kordofan WFP has distributed food to “4,000 displaced people in Kadugli and 3,000 in Heiban in collaboration with Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), Sudanese Red Crescent (SRC) and the local NGO Mubadiroon.” More distributions are either under way or about to take place.
The scope of the crisis in South Kordofan may be much larger. WFP says, “The number of IDPs is reportedly increasing with up to 60,000 people estimated to be displaced so far.”
It is critical for the supply chain of humanitarian aid to keep moving. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which is also providing aid in Abyei, is emphasizing this as part of its peace-building activities in Sudan.
Luc Picard, CRS Church Partner Development Adviser in southern Sudan, says “Peacebuilding in the aftermath of any conflict will be imperative. The demand on basic services placed on the region by host communities, returnees and the displaced and the subsequent struggle for survival in the face of limited resources could easily create a series of conflicts within the community.”
The needs are tremendous. Andy Schaefer of CRS described his visit to Agok where many from Abyei have fled. Schaefer writes, “As we drove we passed blossoming trees, cattle, goats, and sometimes people walking along the road and carrying whatever belongings they could salvage. Some carried mattresses while others escaped only with the clothes they had on their backs. The closer we got to Agok, on the second leg of our trip, the more people we saw on the roads. Makeshift camps covered the town. Every available space was filled with people.”
CRS was planning an agricultural support program before the latest round of violence in Abyei. Once the violence ends, the area can restart the daunting task of building the food security it needs for true peace.