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UNICEF: Peace Negotiations Help Sudan's Humanitarian Situation - 2003-06-16

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has said the humanitarian situation in Sudan has improved because of peace talks between the government and rebels in the south of the country. UNICEF said that as a result of progress in the peace negotiations, humanitarian agencies in Sudan now have access to areas that were once off limits.

Last July, Sudan's government and rebels of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army signed a ceasefire agreement. Negotiations are continuing to try to end the country's 20-year-old civil war.

Although a peace accord has not yet been achieved, the UNICEF representative in Sudan, JoAnna Van Gerpen, said benefits from the ongoing peace process already are visible. "I would have to say that in the last year that there has been an improvement because of the improved security and the increased access. It means that people have been able to go back to their homes and plant crops and have the stability to harvest those crops...compared to if you are in constant movement, then you are just concerned about where you are going to get your next meal and what kind of shelter you can get," she said.

The United Nations estimates about four million people have been displaced during Sudan's long-running conflict. Many of these people have laid down roots in the areas to which they have fled.

But aid workers estimate that between one and two million displaced people will want to return to the homes they fled once a peace agreement is signed.

Ms. Van Gerpen said helping these people return home will be a challenge. "When you have large population movements, [the challenges] are in providing clean drinking water, avoiding disease outbreaks, providing shelter, transportation, schools and health facilities. If we can anticipate before the movement takes place and strengthen the infrastructure in these locations before hand, that is the desired process. But sometimes people do not wait for that to happen which means you then have a crisis when people move without the infrastructure being in place," she said.

UNICEF official JoAnna Van Gerpen notes that when Sudan's long war ends, the country's humanitarian needs will be enormous. She said that it is important that Sudan's war-ravaged people see that life in a peaceful world is better than life at war.