(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Weighed down by displaced neighbours

Internally displaced people arrive in Kuajok, Warrap State of southern Sudan, 18 May 2007. They are on their way to their villages.
John Nyaga/IRIN

Penywol Machok fled inter-communal clashes in Gogrial East County of Southern Sudan’s Warrap State in April and arrived in the state capital of Kwajok hoping to stay with relatives.

Instead, the three-hour truck ride ended in a camp for displaced persons (IDPs). "We are suffering," he said, placing a papyrus mat under trees for shelter. "We do not have food."

One of more than 45,000 people displaced by the clashes between the Aguok and Apuk communities in which the county capital of Lietnhom was hit, Machok now roams the sparse shrub-land around Kwajok to while away the time, still looking for a relative.

"I am not so sure when to quit the IDP life," he said. "I will see."

Residents of Kwajok town, however, are unhappy at the presence of displaced people in their town. "It is a big problem for us because, already, we cannot even care for our own people," the state minister for finance and acting governor, Elia Emillio Khasid, told IRIN.

"Infrastructure was destroyed during the war. What is there is not enough; it is not even maintained."

Abyei influx

The situation has been exacerbated by a sudden influx of about 50,000 people from neighbouring Abyei, displaced by fighting there.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, fighting in Abyei last week sent the largely Dinka Malual and Dinka Ngok residents fleeing southwards. Most ended up in Twic County in Warrap and Agok in the border area.

''Infrastructure was destroyed during the war. What is there is not enough; it is not even maintained''

The fighting in Abyei town between the Sudanese army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), described as the worst since the 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between South and North Sudan, left it virtually destroyed.

"The latest outbreak, the most serous in the area since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, underlined the urgent need for the parties to reach agreement and to implement the Abyei Protocol in full," Derek Plumbly, chairman of the Sudan Assessment and Evaluation Commission, said in a statement.

A weekend meeting agreed to a ceasefire only for fighting to resume on 20 May, raising fears that more IDPs from Abyei could head to Twic, five hours away by road.

"Due to insecurity, we are distributing them [from Twic] to other counties," said Jacob Madut, director for Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in the state. "We have received those who ran away from Abyei to Twic."

Inadequate infrastructure

"We have been trying all this time to [promote] some development, but when we are in the middle of conflict all the time, we cannot do anything," Khasid said. "The fighting prevents people from farming. If people are not living in harmony, the government can’t do anything."

The state lacks adequate infrastructure for its 1.5 million people. The four hospitals were destroyed during the war and only one has been renovated.

Khasid said health services were “at zero level”, adding that the Southern Sudan Health Ministry had not sent salaries for its employees for four months, prompting the workers to down tools.

"If you go to the hospital, nobody is there," he said. "We are also fighting the problem of water - there are few boreholes [and] our people are fighting because of these."

Another area where the state is struggling is in education. Official estimates show that
only about 30 percent of school-age children go to class – some studying under trees. 

Photo: Tim McKulka/UNMIS
Displaced people who fled fighting in Abyei, now in Agok. Clashes resumed in Abyei on 20 May, barely a week after fighting had displaced thousands of people from their homes. About 100 people were injured, according to aid workers in Juba.

During a recent visit to the state, the deputy executive director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Hilde Frafjord Johnson, called for peace so more children could go to school.

"Peace is fundamental for the stability of children and for us to deliver on our programme," Johnson told IRIN. She warned that the lack of resolution to Sudan’s conflicts such as Darfur and Abyei was derailing UNICEF’s plans to broaden education.

"The goal is to raise the number of school-going children from 1.2 million now to 2.5 million by 2011," Johnson said. "It [conflict] claims a lot of capacity and takes away a lot of our resources from children."

Limited aid

Madut said the Abyei displaced were arriving at a difficult time for the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, which was planning to repatriate 80,000 people from Khartoum back home. Already 25,000 have returned. As a result, the commission could not offer much assistance.

And Khasid worried about adjusting to the influx of the IDPs from Abyei. In the meantime, it would try to resolve its own inter-communal disputes - which left 222 people dead in April. A conference in May to be attended by 100 chiefs would discuss solutions.

"We want to talk to them about how we can create harmony," the acting governor said. The state had deployed forces at various places to ensure no fights break out – including Southern Sudan troops who conduct foot patrols.

Meanwhile, Machok and other IDPs have to make do with limited aid from UN agencies and NGOs.

"For every displaced person who receives help … another goes without," Madut added.


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