Sudan: Expulsions leave gaps in Three Areas, eastern region

NAIROBI, 31 March 2009 (IRIN) - NGO expulsions have left humanitarian gaps not only in Darfur, but also in eastern Sudan and the so-called Three Areas bordering on Southern Sudan, Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile - volatile regions key to the success of a 2005 peace accord.

"The expulsions have left large parts of the Three Areas and eastern Sudan without humanitarian assistance or recovery and reintegration support," writes Sara Pantuliano, research fellow with the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute. "Unlike in Darfur, there is very little additional capacity beyond the expelled agencies to even attempt to fill these gaps."

Before its expulsion, Oxfam GB was working in Red Sea State, eastern Sudan. "We have been working with very remote, marginalised communities who have very little support from anywhere else," Alun McDonald, Oxfam GB regional media and communications officer for Horn, East and Central Africa, told IRIN. The region, which has high rates of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy, often suffers regular floods and droughts.

"Last time the floods hit, many villages were submerged and thousands of people lost their homes, animals and farms... if the floods strike again this year, with nearly all the aid agencies expelled, communities will be extremely vulnerable," McDonald said. "The decision to expel us from eastern Sudan will affect the poorest people in the state."

Children at risk

Kassala and Red Sea states have the highest malnutrition rates in Sudan, according to ODI. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that the expulsions will leave more than 100,000 vulnerable children in northern Sudan without support.

Access to health services has also been reduced in Southern Kordofan. According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), at least 30 percent of the state's health facilities remain without direct implementing partner support, and may suspend services in routine immunisation, nutrition and feeding programmes following the expulsions.

"...The expulsion means we can no longer support 56 health clinics that we've helped to build or rehabilitate since the peace agreement in 2005. We can no longer provide these clinics with essential medicines, staff training or support for community health education initiatives," Kurt Tjossem, International Rescue Committee (IRC) regional director for the Horn and East Africa region, told IRIN.

Before its expulsion, the IRC was working in Kassala, Red Sea, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan "... supporting... lifesaving medical care, water, sanitation and livelihoods for around 1.1 million people".

Now, the IRC has been forced to stop its water and sanitation programmes in these areas. Fewer than 40 percent of the population of Kassala and Red Sea states have access to safe drinking water.

"In former SPLM [Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement, which governs Southern Sudan and is a partner in the national unity government, GNU] areas of both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, particularly Kaoda and Kurmuk, NGOs deliver most essential services," according to the ODI.

The expulsion of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Save the Children UK also affected education and child protection projects. NRC had been active in Sudan since 2004 and was implementing education and school construction projects in Southern Kordofan.

Save the Children UK was working with community groups on children's rights, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. "This [the expulsion] has very worrying implications for the 50,000 children we are currently supporting in Khartoum and the north-east of the country," said Ken Caldwell, Save the Children UK's director of international operations.

Peace threat

According to ODI, "it may also be difficult for Sudanese NGOs from Northern Sudan to work in some of the more politicised camps in... former SPLM-controlled areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile".

The expulsions are also "likely to have a direct negative impact on ongoing efforts to promote peace and stability, especially in Abyei and Southern Kordofan, both through the provision of 'peace dividends' and reconciliation activities", according to Pantuliano. "These areas are already unserved or underserved by the state GNU, and the withdrawal of services provided by departing NGOs will increase levels of frustration." There has been growing discontent in Southern Kordofan.

Abyei, Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and the eastern region have only recently emerged from conflict and remain highly volatile, she said. Clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in May 2008 displaced about 60,000 civilians in Southern Kordofan and Abyei.

Relations within the GNU could also be affected. "... The decision to expel the international NGOs may also increase tensions between the ruling National Congress Party and the SPLM, as it appears that the latter was not consulted on the decision," according to ODI. "The SPLM is seeking to contest the move in order to allow the organisations concerned to continue operating at least in former SPLM-controlled areas of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, as well as in Abyei.

"As with the SPLM, the Eastern Front was not consulted about the expulsions. The front, which is currently undergoing a political crisis, is likely to be further alienated from Eastern Sudan society, particularly youth, potentially fuelling fresh unrest."