Communities in northern Bahr al-Ghazal, which are expecting over 100,000 displaced people to return to the region this year, have identified water as their most immediate need, the UN has reported. Food security and health care are next in order of importance.
The displaced are expected to return to East, South and West Aweil districts following the expected signing of a peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement.
The vast numbers expected to return could constitute the largest number and greatest concentration of returns in the whole of southern Sudan, said a recent joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the UN area coordinator in Bahr al-Ghazal.
Water was urgently needed in the highland areas, the densely populated mid-land areas and on major routes of return, the report stated. Several major routes of return from the north, from where the vast majority of the displaced would be coming, had no water sources at all and presented "a significant danger to the tens of thousands of returnees", it said.
Currently, about 30 percent of the 1 million people living in the Aweils have neither the resources nor the capacity to feed themselves adequately. Rates of global acute malnutrition were routinely 18 percent and soared to between 20 percent and 30 percent when harvested food ran out during the spring months, the UN reported.
"It is already an emergency context and should be considered a priority in terms of vulnerability reduction in southern Sudan," it said.
Vulnerable households needed to be assisted to produce more food and to make use of readily available food sources, such as fish, while assets like goats and chickens needed to be vaccinated, the UN recommended. In addition to water and food, health services also needed to be extended to under-served areas and routes of return, including vaccination and education on public health issues.
Other recommendations included deploying monitoring teams at key crossing points and routes, and establishing protection booths with information about services, family reunification, mines, justice and HIV/AIDS. Jerry cans, cooking pots and blankets also needed to be provided, as well as modest transport between towns on the northern side of the river Kiir and the main stopping points within the Aweils, it said.
Before the Sudanese civil war started in 1983, the Aweils were a successful area that exported surplus food to as far away as East Africa. That vibrant commerce had since been largely destroyed by the war, but the cessation of hostilities coupled with a good harvest in 2003 had produced "good levels of food security" and even surpluses in some areas, the UN reported.
But reports consistently indicated that sufficient humanitarian aid was failing to reach the 30 percent vulnerable people already in the Aweils. "This is the context into which returnees are coming home," the report warned.
The UN emphasised that services should be provided for both host populations in the region and the returnees. "Making a distinction between the two must be avoided. They are simply the vulnerable."
Since December 2003, 16,000 people have already returned to the Aweils, according to the UN.
Sudan is home to between three and four million displaced people, up to two million of whom are in the capital, Khartoum.
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