South Sudan Crisis: Impact on the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile

28 January 2014

Thursday, 23rd January 2014 brought the news that a Cessation of Hostilities agreement had been signed in Addis Ababa. Mediated by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East-African regional grouping, and signed by representatives of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, the agreement mandates the cessation of all military actions. It specifies that parties shall cease all hostile propaganda (particularly those that fan ethnic hatred), and commit to the protection of human rights, life and property. It also provides for the immediate formation of a Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) under the leadership of IGAD, to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Although the agreement includes a clause requiring both parties to allow humanitarian access, it will take time for humanitarian channels to reopen and for aid to reach those in need, given the numbers and often-remote locations of affected populations. Since December 15th 2013, up to 10,000 people have been killed, and around 575,000 people have been displaced inside South Sudan. A further 112,200 have fled to neighbouring countries. Around 76,000 people are sheltering in eight UN bases across the country – the highest number since the start of the conflict. Aid agencies have so far reached and assisted around 251,000 people, with many of those in need still lacking access to supplies and support. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) has stated that aid agencies require $209 million for the current crisis, of which around $104 million has been secured (as of the 19th January).

In many communities the conflict is exacerbating a pre-existing humanitarian crisis. South Sudan is currently home to some 230,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile States across the border in Sudan, who have fled systematic persecution, including sustained aerial bombardment. Their precarious existence in South Sudan is threatened by renewed waves of conflict and displacement, with refugee camps overflowing and aid being diverted or disrupted. Many of the international staff who had been working for aid agencies in South Sudan were evacuated; not all have returned. Around 1,200 new arrivals in the Yida refugee camp have not yet been registered or received any assistance. The situation has become so desperate that at least 17,000 people have crossed back into South and Western Kordofan in Sudan, where they face targeted aerial bombardments, famine and widespread persecution at the hands of the government in Khartoum. A number of people fleeing South Sudan have also arrived in Eastern Darfur and Abyei.

The conflict in South Sudan has also had serious repercussions for the estimated 680,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. A poor harvest, caused by a limited rainy season and intense insecurity, has left IDPs almost entirely reliant on food coming from outside. The recent fighting has interrupted land and river transport to both of these regions, leaving thousands without food or medicines. The Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (SRRA) based in South Kordofan and Blue Nile warned on the 17th January that the situation in Blue Nile state is particularly grave – if food and medicines are not delivered immediately, hundreds will die of hunger and disease in the coming months.

One of HART’s partners, who must remain anonymous due to security concerns, is working to meet the urgent needs of the people in Blue Nile State, where virtually no other aid organisations operate. Our other major partner in the region is located in Bahr-el-Ghazal in South Sudan, in a region which has been inundated by refugees fleeing the conflicts raging all around them. By virtue of living in, and being dedicated to, these regions and their people, our partners do not leave when the conflict worsens and so can continue giving life-saving support to those not being reached by other aid organisations.

Humanitarian assistance and comprehensive, inclusive peace negotiations are urgently needed, not only in South Sudan, but in regions of Sudan which have long borne the brunt of the civil war and which are now suffering the repercussions of instability across the border. An increase in funding for humanitarian assistance must be complemented by the political will to secure access to communities in unstable regions. The situation in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Darfur and Abyei has gone largely unreported for the last month. We are particularly concerned that, while the world focuses on South Sudan, communities in Sudan who have been deeply affected by the current crisis, the disruption of aid and on-going persecution by the Sudanese government will be neglected. As recent events have demonstrated, the futures of Sudan and South Sudan are still deeply intertwined and to ignore on-going conflict in either could have serious repercussions for peace and development.

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