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UNICEF: 2006 Make or Break Year for Sudan

The U.N. Children's Fund calls 2006 a make or break year for Sudan. UNICEF warns war could break out again if millions of refugees and internally displaced people lack jobs and basic health and educational services upon their return to the homes they fled in southern Sudan years ago.

UNICEF says the importance of rebuilding southern Sudan's shattered infrastructure and economy cannot be underestimated. The agency's Director of Emergency Programs, Dan Toole, calls this the most important year for Sudan and he says changes for the better must be made.

"People who have come out of war, local populations that want to return home, if they do not see schools, if they do not see health centers, if they do not see visible change in their lives, they will become frustrated, they will become angry, we may risk having war again in Sudan. We cannot take that risk. We must fund urgently and on a very large scale this year for Sudan," he said.

UNICEF is launching an appeal for $805 million to help women and children affected by humanitarian emergencies in 29 countries. More than one-third of this amount will go for programs in Sudan.

A year ago, the Sudanese government and rebel Sudan Liberation Army signed a peace agreement ending 21 years of civil war. U.N. agencies expect up to five million refugees and internally displaced people will want to return to the homes they fled in the south many years ago. But, they agree these returns will be sustainable only if services such as water, sanitation, and education are provided.

Toole says the face of emergencies has changed in the past 10 years. He says there are fewer conflicts and more natural disasters. In some ways, he says this is good because it is easier to get money for natural disasters than for wars that drag on for years without end.

For example, he says it is more difficult to raise money now than it was two years ago for Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled to Chad.

"There is still the need for very urgent, very significant support for the situation and operations in Darfur," he added. "The security situation particularly in West Darfur has deteriorated substantially in the last several weeks, therefore access is difficult and therefore we have difficulty in ensuring provision of water, sanitation and health services in those areas. I expect that throughout 2006, we will have a major humanitarian active operation in Darfur."

UNICEF estimates the survival of one-point-four-million children in Darfur is threatened. Several other major beneficiaries of UNICEF's appeal include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda.

The agency also has large operations in Eastern and Southern Africa targeted at alleviating problems arising from drought, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and widespread malnutrition.