Civilians living in the border areas between South Sudan and Sudan are caught in the deadly crossfire between two rival nations. Lives have been lost, families displaced from their homes and communities. And it could get much worse.
There is fear the two nations will start an all-out war, a return to the level of suffering during the two-decade conflict that ended in 2005.
President Obama said directly to both Sudan and South Sudan last month, “It doesn’t have to be this way. Conflict is not inevitable. You still have a choice.”
Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, delivers remarks on the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan to the United Nations Security Council in New York on May 2, 2012. (State Department video)
South Sudan and Sudan can choose to implement the much needed “safe demilitarized border zone” which the UN Security Council is urging them to adopt. By pulling back their forces, they can stop the bloodshed, lower tensions and the risk of miscalculations by their forces, and allow humanitarian aid to flow more freely. There is tremendous hunger and poverty in this region.
The UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Sudan director Chris Nikoi says, “The food security situation in the border states was already precarious. Now the border clashes threaten to displace more people and disrupt already fragile livelihoods.”
Photo of distribution of food aid to refugees from Abyei, a territory claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. The World Food Programme says that for many refugees the food rations are “the only means of survival.” However, WFP is facing an over $100 million shortage in funds for feeding the hungry in South Sudan. (Photo credit: UNMIS/Issac Gideon.)
Food, water, medicine, shelter, and education need to constitute the sole focus on both sides of the border. This can only happen once Sudan and South Sudan pull their armies back from the brink.
John Quincy Adams once said about a buildup of arms on the Great Lakes along the U.S. border with British-ruled Canada in 1816, “the moral and political tendency of such a system must be to war and not to peace.” The U.S. and Britain chose then to demilitarize rather than escalate, having had enough of conflict from previous years. Treaties followed rather than war.
Such diplomacy is the only answer to South Sudan and Sudan’s struggle too. For it can open the only road to peace for the two countries: dialogue and negotiation.