Sunday, 18 March 2012

POVERTY: SUDAN: Aid needs urgent as refugees head south

YIDA, 16 March 2012 (IRIN) -
The international community should act urgently to provide assistance to thousands of people affected by conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in Sudan, and the many refugees who have fled across the border into South Sudan, say South Sudan officials and NGOs. The refugees are fleeing ongoing fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in the two states. In South Kordofan, a nine-month conflict has left thousands there vulnerable. "It was as the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Sudan in 2003-04 that I saw what genocidal violence was doing in Darfur. When I asked the world to heed my warnings, it looked away until it was too late," said Mukesh Kapila, a former head of the UN in Sudan, who visited South Kordofan's Nuba Mountains earlier this month. "From what I have seen in the Nuba Mountains, I fear that much the same scenario is unfolding there. Will the world listen this time around?" Kapila, visiting the region as special adviser to the anti-genocide group the Aegis Trust, said he had seen burnt villages, destroyed food stores and damaged schools with civilians sheltering in churches. "I heard an Antonov [plane] myself and watched women and children running away shrieking [in] fear, as well as fields on fire from dropped bombs destroying what little food crops were being planted. "I also saw the anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs that had been used in places where women and children go to fetch water and firewood." Refugees' plight For the 20,000-30,000 South Kordofan refugees who have made it across the border into neighbouring Yida region, in South Sudan's Unity State, the situation is not much better. "Even here across the border, they have been bombed by Antonovs belonging to the Sudanese military," said Kapila. The air raids are causing concern among aid agencies, with some of them withdrawing from border areas towards the capital Bentiu. In Yida refugee camp refugees spoke of their flight: A disabled old woman, who was struggling to care for five visibly traumatized grandchildren, told IRIN how they had been forced to flee their village in the Nuba Mountains region after the children's parents were killed by bombing; another elderly woman said she had been beaten by soldiers after being arrested on suspicion of attempting to flee to rebel-held areas; a nine-year-old girl there had broken her collar bone while diving for cover during one of the many air raids. In Blue Nile State, thousands have also been displaced into neighbouring Upper Nile State in South Sudan where "the refugee population continues to increase steadily", according to a bulletin by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). [ ] Between 22 and 29 February some 2,300 new refugees were registered in the Doro and Jammam refugee sites there, said OCHA. South Sudan is hosting at least 103,000 refugees, 80 percent of whom are from Blue Nile. "Window of opportunity" As the April rains approach, there are fears of a worsening humanitarian situation. "The lives of tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in South Sudan depend on the scaling up of humanitarian aid now," warned Julien Matter, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency coordinator. "The scale-up must take place in the short and rapidly closing window of opportunity before the rainy season starts in late April." Life in the remote Doro and Jammam sites is already hard for the refugees who are largely dependent on humanitarian assistance. "They have sought a safer place but they have found a harsh environment where their ability to survive is stretched to breaking point," said Matter. "All organizations providing assistance in the camps must focus on an emergency push during the coming weeks to ensure that refugees can survive the coming months," he added. In Jonglei State, South Sudan, aid agencies are also calling for the stepping up of aid for an estimated 140,000 people affected by interethnic clashes. "Further fighting could lead to further insecurity, uncertainty and displacement," Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness at Plan International, told IRIN. "The crisis has already reached a tipping point. Rains could also cut the lifeline which impacts the food aid to the displaced population which is already going through a critical situation." Jonglei has a poor road network connecting remote villages, and there are many swamps. According to Kapila, the affected population needs food and medical aid as well as agriculture inputs. "After two seasons of badly disrupted agriculture, hunger is rapidly increasing in a wider region that is seriously food-insecure anyway," he said, calling for aid to be provided through local structures and community groups in both government and rebel-held areas if access for international organizations continues to be a problem.

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