SUDAN WATCH: UN braces for uncontrolled return of displaced into S. Sudan

Monday, January 17, 2005

UN braces for uncontrolled return of displaced into S. Sudan

An Agence France-Presse report out of Rumbek, Sudan on Jan 16 explains how the UN is working with the SPLM rebels in the bombed-out southern town of Rumbek, where the rebel group has set up its headquarters.

With the rebels set to run an autonomous administration for the south under the terms of last week's peace deal, the UN fears that the trickle of returns will become a flood, overwhelming its ability to provide for them.

"We are working with them (the rebels) to establish appropriate institutions to manage this," the UN humanitarian coordinator for southern Sudan, W. David Gressly, told AFP.
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UNCHR expect return of 500,000 - 1.2 million people to southern Sudan

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 3.5 million of southern Sudan's 10 million people were displaced by the 21-year civil war. Of those, some 500,000 found refuge beyond Sudan's borders.

"We don't expect all of them to come back at once, but we do expect them to come back," said Gressly.

The UNHCR expects anywhere between 500,000 and 1.2 million people to return to the south this year, the majority of them from northern Sudan and neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Kenya.
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UNCHR estimates this year alone will cost 60 million dollars to reintegrate returnees

One of Africa's least developed regions even before the war, south Sudan now lacks the most basic infrastructure and the UNHCR estimates that this year alone it will cost at least 60 million dollars to reintegrate returnees.

"The first challenge I think is water, particularly for those returns coming to Bahr El-Ghazal," said Gressly. "They are coming from an educational background which has been based on Arabic instruction and here it is English-language instruction," he said.
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UN WFP says 3.2 million people at risk from famine in southern Sudan

Food is another immense problem in a region where UN agencies say there is already a risk of famine.

The World Food Programme says 3.2 million people are threatened with starvation this year and has appealed for 302 million dollars in contributions from UN member states.

Erratic rainfall last year caused the harvest to fail in many parts of southern Sudan. The UN estimates that 48 percent of children under five in rebel-held areas suffer from chronic malnutrition while 21 percent suffer from acute malnutrition.
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UN agencies moving offices from Kenyan border to southern Sudan

In a bid to address the challenges, UN agencies have begun moving their offices to southern Sudan from the Kenyan border where they were based during the war. But officials concede that logistical problems are still hobbling their response. "There is very little infrastructure," said Gressly.
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An estimated 3 - 5 million landmines planted in Sudan

The deadly legacy of an estimated three to five million landmines planted by government forces and the rebels is the biggest obstacle, making road travel dangerous if not impossible.

"It's as serious as anywhere else in the world where there is a mine problem in population areas," said Dave McIvor, an operations officer for the United Nations Mines Action Service.

The Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD) has been conducting a survey of demining needs under contract to the United Nations. "The priority at the moment throughout Sudan is to clear the roads," said Michael Story, a supervisor for the FSD.

But in a region where even the most basic needs frequently go unmet, UN officials say it is difficult to get residents to take the problem seriously.

"People just say: 'We have been living with these mines for years and nothing happened. Talk to us about food and water,'" said Diana Surur, an assistant project officer for UNICEFs Mine Risk Education programme.
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Mobiles ring in south Sudan's new era

RUMBEK, Sudan (Reuters) Jan 17: The town of Rumbek in southern Sudan is getting used to a sound never heard before -- the ringing of a mobile phone.

Fighting had left southern Sudan a black spot for telecommunications until last August when the region's first mobile phone operator -- Network of the World (NOW) -- was set up with a multimillion dollar investment. Satellite dishes, generators, computers, a telecoms mast and a wooden shed for an Internet cafe were transported piecemeal to the bush, by convoy and chartered plane. Despite a chronic lack of trained technicians and engineers in southern Sudan, a network was up and running within four months.

There are now about 1,000 subscribers to NOW in two towns -- Rumbek and Yei, and Richard Herbert, NOW's operations director, is confident that number will increase five-fold by the end of the year.

"Our long-term goal is to get as many mobile phones into people's hands as possible so that relatives abroad can get in touch," he told Reuters in an interview. "For most people, receiving phone calls is more important than making them because they don't have the buying power yet." Full Story.

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