While much of the world’s attention is focused on western Sudan’s Darfur region, southern Sudan is on the verge of a major change: life without war. With hopes rising for a final peace accord, many of southern Sudan’s displaced people are beginning to return home. As a result, the UN World Food Program is currently assessing the food needs of the returnees.
Marcus Prior is with the WFP and has just spent several days in the Nuba Mountains. During a stopover in western Bar el Gazal, he spoke by satellite phone with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about his mission.
He says, “The reason for coming was essentially because I’ve spent with the World Food program several weeks and months in Darfur, seeing what’s been unraveling in that part of the world. But in so doing, it also became clear that Sudan is a country of more than one crisis and that the long unresolved war in the South, which stands on the brink of a final, comprehensive peace settlement, remains an unresolved conflict until such a time as that comprehensive peace deal is signed. And I think there’s a strong sense among many people that while the world’s eyes have been focused on Darfur to a large extent they’ve been removed from what has been going on in the South.” Mr. Prior says, “Although the World Food Program is very clear that although we have obviously have a huge operation in Darfur, and there are huge needs there, there continue to be enormous needs in the South as well.”
The WFP official confirms reforms that thousands of displaced people are beginning to return home in hopes the peace agreement will take hold. He says, “Yes, absolutely. I’ve just returned from the Nuba Mountains, we spent three days in that region of Sudan. And the local authorities there, the SPLM (rebel faction) authorities, say that since the beginning of the year over 100,000 people have returned. And the evidence is there in front of your own eyes. If you visit a lot of the villages, a lot of the old settlements, which had been deserted, have been reclaimed and rebuilt.”
But he adds, “Over the last two or three months there hasn’t been that much activity as far as the returns is concerned, simply because the climatic conditions mitigate against it. It’s extremely wet in the Nuba Mountains. It rains infrequently, but when it does it rains very heavily and makes traveling even short distances very difficult. It also means people who need shelter from the rains if they’re returning to former villages where they no longer have shelter would find life much more difficult. So, authorities are anticipating until the rainy season is over, which will be in the next two or three weeks, that large numbers will still return to the Nuba Mountains.” As many as 300,000 people could return to the South once the rains end.