Briefing document on the Emergency in the South of Sudan

Sudan context

Sudan is Africa's largest country, about 10 times the size of the UK. Twenty-seven million people live in this vast area, which has very poor infrastructure making travel and transport to remote rural communities extremely difficult. Sudan's economy depends on agriculture and livestock. The most important crops are sorghum, groundnuts, sesame, sugar, gum Arabic and cotton.

The country's geography can be roughly divided into three broad bands: deserts in the north; savannah grasslands and semi-deserts in the central regions and woodlands and swamp in the south. The Blue and White Niles converge in the capital, Khartoum, and pass through northern desert plains. Ethnic groups range from predominantly Muslim Arabs, Nubians and Fur in the north and west to predominantly Christian and animist Nilotic and Bantu peoples of the south.

The conflict in Sudan

Since independence in 1956, Sudan has had only 11 years of peace, the current conflict starting in 1983. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was formed under the leadership of John Garang and is fighting the army of the Islamic Government, based in Khartoum. The conflict is often described in purely religious terms, the Christian south fighting the Islamic north. However, the conflict is more complex than this. Historically the south's resources (oil, minerals, agricultural produce, cattle and timber) have been exploited by the north, whilst the government in Khartoum has been accused of failing to develop the infrastructure, health and education system in the southern region. Originally the SPLA were fighting to establish greater autonomy from the government in the north, but are now demanding secession from the north and complete autonomy to democratically govern their own affairs.

An end to the war and a sustainable peace settlement are essential if the potential for the development of Sudan and its people are to be realised.

The main peace initiative is being led by the Inter-Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD), which includes Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea. A new round of talks will commence in May 1998, but the majority of the actors are not confident that the talks will result in a cease-fire.

Oxfam in Sudan

Oxfam has been working in the north and south of Sudan since 1984. Oxfam has been directly responding to populations affected by the conflict in the south of the country since 1989. In the South, Oxfam is able to work on both sides of the conflict (i.e. in government and rebel areas) through a negotiated agreement between the Sudanese Government, the rebel groups and the United Nations.

In the South of Sudan, Oxfam has programmes in the government controlled areas (Bahr el Jebel state, Unity State and Upper Nile State) and programmes in the rebel controlled areas (Western Equatoria and Eastern Bahr el Ghazal).

Here Oxfam's work supports and builds the capacity of vulnerable rural communities affected by the conflict and drought through programmes combining water-supply, health-care and health-education and food-security, in agriculture, livestock and fishing. Alongside these longer term initiatives, Oxfam retains the capacity to respond to emergencies, small and large, when they occur.

The present emergency in the south of Sudan

Drought in the south of Sudan

The present drought is widespread across the south of Sudan, affecting both government and non-government controlled areas. This has been primarily due to poor rains over the past two years, leading to reduced annual yields of an estimated 40-50%, with some areas much worse affected than others. The Operation Lifeline Sudan Annual Appeal (the UN umbrella organisation for responding to the emergencies in Sudan), launched in February 1998, clearly stated that millions of people in southern Sudan would face the risk of starvation if the deteriorating food situation was not addressed.

Currently the region as a whole is severely stressed by food insecurity. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has responded with increased food distributions and aid organisations, including Oxfam, have increased their response in the areas where they operate.

The situation in Bahr el Ghazal state

The area most severely affected by food scarcity, and attracting recent media attention, is Northern Bahr el Ghazal province, in Bahr el Ghazal state (BeG). The area is semi-arid and prone to cyclical droughts, the last severe drought being in 1988/89. The rural population are predominantly agro-pastoralists who survive through a combination of farming (mainly sorghum), cattle rearing and trading. The rural population migrates seasonally; in the dry season moving towards rivers and lowland grazing, returning to villages at the start of the rains to plant crops. People also migrate to peaceful areas to avoid fighting. In Sub Saharan Africa, there is usually a period before the harvest when food supplies run out (often called a hunger gap). During this time people will eat wild foods, fish and milk from the cows to survive.

The regional capital, Wau has been under government control throughout the 15 year conflict. The government forces have been less successful in securing the rural areas of BeG, where SPLA forces are now in control. In January 1998 Wau Town was attacked by the SPLA and the civilian population left the town for the relative safety of the surrounding countryside. Displaced populations moved mainly north to Aweil and south east towards eastern BeG. Early estimates of displaced populations outside Wau were 160,000 but it is now estimated by WFP that the number of people affected by the insecurity and drought is 350,000.

Access to the south of Sudan

Under the UN agreement, all aid flights into rebel held areas of Sudan need to be approved by the Government of Sudan and the SPLA. Following the fighting around Wau in January, flights into Bahr el Ghazal were banned by the government for two months.

As the severity of the food shortages has become clear, the Government of Sudan has allowed access for two Hercules aircraft (16 metric tonnes capacity) to over 50 airstrips in BeG and 180 airstrips throughout the south, far better access than has been allowed in the past. However, because of the severity of the situation, it is important that pressure continues on all parties involved in the conflict, to increase access to the south. The UN is now negotiating for access for two further Hercules aircraft, which it believes is the minimum number required for an effective food response.

Transport into the region by road is possible during the dry season, to areas not directly affected by the fighting. Landmines have been laid in disputed territory and routes need to be approved by the Government and SPLA forces. Northern BeG is too far from Uganda and Kenya (the normal access routes) and during the rains cannot be reached by road.

Oxfam's Response

WFP is the agency responsible for delivering food into the south of Sudan and the UN are requesting humanitarian aid agencies, like Oxfam, to respond to the crisis with other forms of assistance. Needs identified include: access to clean water; health care; supplementary feeding for the severely malnourished women and children; agricultural seeds and tools (hoes, spades and axes) so people can plant crops for the next harvest and household items such as cooking pots, plates, buckets for carrying water and blankets.

In similar emergencies Oxfam has undertaken food distributions on the ground after food has been dropped by planes. This is to ensure that food reaches those most in need.

This assistance is being carefully co-ordinated to avoid duplication on the ground and Oxfam is responding to different needs depending on geographic areas of responsibility and the requirements of the populations.

1) Rumbek County, eastern Bahr el Ghazal (SPLA controlled area)

During the last 4 months in eastern BeG, Oxfam has been responding to an influx of 30,000 displaced people from northern BeG (about 150 miles to the north west of eastern BeG). Oxfam has also been addressing the drought affecting local populations.

Oxfam's programme involves digging and rehabilitating wells, supporting primary health clinics, supplying veterinary drugs to cattle owners and distributing seeds and agricultural tools during times of stress. Over the past 4 months, as the situation has deteriorated, Oxfam has increased these activities and re-focused our response to the areas under the most stress.

The water and sanitation programme involves deepening wells using locally available labour in the west of the county where the displaced people have settled and are being hosted by the local communities. Seeds and tools distributions are already in place for the planting season in 6 weeks time, and more are being delivered to provide for the displaced populations. WFP have been consistently lobbied to supply food alongside the seed distribution so farmers plant rather than consume the seed. WFP will be delivering food to our programme area next week and the seeds distributed accordingly. There are plans to increase this response further.

2) Northern Bahr el Ghazal (SPLA controlled area)

Oxfam is co-operating with Save the Children Fund (UK), Medecins Sans Frontier (Belgium) and World Vision in Northern BeG, with support from UNICEF and WFP, who are supplying the food. To date, the response has focused on meeting the food and health needs of the people arriving at the food distribution points.

Following discussions with the above organisations, it was decided that Oxfam should respond to the water and sanitation needs of the displaced populations. Large numbers of malnourished individuals are collecting at WFP food distribution points (often bush runways). One of the major risks affecting displaced people in NBeG is that of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases.

Oxfam's engineers and equipment are preparing to fly to the area. Mobile teams, skilled in setting up and operating emergency water supplies, will then travel from distribution site to distribution site. If necessary and airlift capacity is available, Oxfam will also respond to provide other non-food requirements such as seeds and tools, household kits and blankets.

3) Mundri, Western Equatoria (SPLA controlled area)

There is an ongoing programme with displaced and local people and during the last 4 months, Oxfam has been addressing the lack of seeds and tools available to farmers who are under stress because of the drought. The seeds and tools are being delivered by road, through Uganda, and will arrive in time for the rains. Our programme staff continue to monitor the situation.

4) Bentiu, Unity State (Government controlled area)

Oxfam are currently setting up an emergency programme in Unity State to respond to 25,000 displaced people through insecurity. Oxfam will respond to the water and sanitation needs of the displaced as well as supplying materials for shelter. This will be a co-ordinated response with CARE supplying supplementary foods to mothers and children, and seeds and tools, WFP supplying food and Medecins Sans Frontier and UNICEF addressing the health needs.

5) Malakal, Upper Nile State (Government controlled area)

Oxfam has ongoing programmes in Upper Nile in livestock, fisheries and agriculture and is monitoring the situation.

6) Juba Town, Bahr el Jebel State (Government controlled area)

Juba is the capital town of the south and surrounded by the SPLA. Access is by air from Khartoum and WFP supply food in barges along the Nile from the north of Sudan. Oxfam has a rural programme addressing the needs of farmers and cattle owners and this programme has been responding to the drought for the past 6 months. The food situation in Juba and Terekeka to the north of the town is now serious and Oxfam are currently implementing an emergency food and seeds response.

For more information, call the Supporters' Information Team: Telephone: (44) (0)1865- 313600

=A9 Oxfam GB 1998