South Sudan: humanitarian crisis mounts as peace flounders

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 • by Christopher Nyamandi from Juba, South Sudan

As peace between the countries of South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan flounders, the humanitarian consequences of this political brinksmanship are expected to mount in the coming months.

The UN estimates that at least four million people -- half the population of South Sudan -- will need food assistance, and a 20% increase in child mortality is anticipated if immediate action is not taken. Heightened insecurity has left less time for farming initiatives and resulting food production. Below average rainfall in some areas of South Sudan is also contributing to food shortages.

The government of South Sudan has also stopped oil production, accusing the government in the north of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the south's oil. While South Sudan is one of the world’s least developed countries, its borders contain most of the oil that enabled Sudan’s growth over the past decade. Given that oil has accounted for 98% of the country’s income, severely curbing this revenue will impact heavily on the government’s ability to feed people and sustain social services.

Disputes over citizenship rights continue to be a point of contention between the two governments, leaving people vulnerable to displacement and threatening to undermine lasting peace between the two countries. The government of Sudan has pledged to rescind the nine-month transitional period to citizenship for South Sudanese people next month, effectively ending the path to legal citizenship for hundreds of thousands of individuals.

“The international community must insist the government of Sudan protects all people in its territories including people of South Sudanese origin, some of whom were born in the north and are by international precedents entitled to citizenship. Stripping them of citizenship is a serious violation of their human rights,” said John Ashworth, an advisor to the Sudan Ecumenical Forum.

While over 350,000 people migrated from Sudan back to their homeland in South Sudan from December 2010 in anticipation of the declaration of statehood in July 2011, they have not yet been able to establish themselves as resilient households. While the government, UN agencies and NGOs emphasised repatriation, little was prepared for the people to have sustainable livelihoods. Access to land, livelihoods possibilities and basic amenities such as clean water and health services remain lower than expected.

An additional 700,000 more people are expected to make the journey back to the South if the government of Sudan makes good on its promise to strip them of citizenship rights in the Republic of Sudan. People of South Sudanese origin will be the most deeply impacted. Such a migration flow would only add to the already existing burden of more than 100,000 refugees who have fled the war in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States and more than 115,000 who fled the contested region of Abyei. Hundreds of thousands are also internally displaced within South Sudan as a result of small armed group and tribal violence that devastated parts of Jonglei state.

The ACT response

In the midst of these security and humanitarian difficulties, ACT Alliance general secretary, John Nduna, a native of Zambia with a long history of working in the region, visited South Sudan in March 2012, where he held meetings with government, civil society and church leaders, including South Sudan's Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin. Nduna assured them of the alliance’s continued support.

He highlighted the ongoing work of ACT members in Jonglei, where The Lutheran World Federation, Finn Church Aid, DanChurchAid, Norwegian Church Aid and Sudan Council of Churches were implementing humanitarian and conflict mitigation programmes for people affected by the tribal violence.

Nduna pledged that the alliance would work towards achieving stability in the country. "ACT remains committed to addressing the deepening humanitarian challenges in South Sudan and helping facilitate a sustainable peace in the region in coordination with the government, the United Nations and non-governmental organisations,” assured Nduna.


The impending humanitarian crisis: quick facts*

Number of people already migrated to South Sudan but still need resettlement and/or livelihoods assistance.

360,000

Number of IDPs who have fled violence from Abyei. Most settled in camps in Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal States.

115,000

Number of IDPs who have fled violence in Jonglei state.

100,000

Number of refugees who have fled violence from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State.

100,000

Number of people expected to migrate to South Sudan should citizenship issues remain unresolved.

700,000

Total

1,375,000

*These figures are sourced from UN OCHA Documents and recent conversations with senior UN officials and government sources.