The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says the humanitarian crisis in southern Sudan is growing worse, as the referendum for independence nears.
The group says there’s been a steady stream of southern Sudanese returning home from the north and neighboring countries. But they’re often settling in areas already facing shortages of basic necessities.
In Juba, IRC Country Director for Southern Sudan Susan Purdin says, “The normal situation, if you will, is an ongoing crisis because the basic services are very difficult for people to access. And most people don’t have really basic things like access to education or clean water or nearby health services.”
What’s more, she says, “Many people have come back in anticipation of the referendum. And a number of people have been displaced by other events – the bombing on the border in November, other kinds of insecurity events. And so all of those people, who are now living outside of their homes, are experiencing increasing needs.”
Purdin says even in the best of times, humanitarian efforts in south Sudan are “strained and overburdened.”
The IRC says since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese have returned home. But many have settled in volatile border regions.
“The conditions for people who live in the rural areas of Sudan are extraordinarily basic. It’s very barren. There are collections of grass thatched huts in communities. And water is available at some walking distance from our hand operated pumps.”
She says, for example, it may take hours for women to walk to hand pumps and collect enough water for their families, whether for cooking or bathing.
Rural residents try to grow food on barren patches of land. But the meager harvest often can fall prey to the weather, either too dry or too wet.
Purdin says while there’s been no repeat of the November bombing of border areas, violence and insecurity are major problems.
She says, “Other things are happening with inter tribal violence or cattle raiding. And that can go on for a period of time so it disturbs whole communities, as well.”
In addition, Purdin says, “A lot of troops are moving in various locations. Large numbers sort of staging near the border areas and that’s another cause of concern about violence whenever a lot of people with guns are moving about. So, it’s isolated episodes, but it’s very disturbing to people.”
And then there’s the ongoing threat from the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA has raided villages in south Sudan and often launches attacks in the eastern DRC.
The International Rescue Committee says it has prepositioned medical supplies around south Sudan in the event that violence breaks out during the week long referendum. Voting gets underway January 9th.
“We are doing everything in our power to maintain services that we provide for people,” says Purdin, “IRC operates 29 clinics around southern Sudan.”