After months of waiting, UNICEF Kadugli head of office, Soledad Herrero, arrived back on 24 February after an 11 hour drive from Khartoum. Soledad was the first of four international UN heads of office to return to the conflict-affected state of South Kordofan. Passing through many checkpoints in the province she eventually returned to an emotional welcome from the national staff who had been running the office in her absence.
Soledad has come back to find the numbers fleeing the fighting increasing.
“It is heart-breaking to see so many people, particularly the children suffering. These people have fled, often taking nothing. Some are living in overcrowded conditions and they have so many needs to be met - the most basic things.” said Soledad. “Some children are still wearing the rags of the clothes they were left with last June when the fighting first started.”
This is another reason – in addition to the lack of classroom space - why some of these families have not sent their children to school.
“Their parents have no means of earning any money so they cannot buy them new clothes,” Soledad explained. UNICEF is now working with its partner Save the Children Sweden to distribute clothing to the many hundreds of children in and around Kadugli in need of them.
Soledad has found life in Kadulgi to be relatively calm with shops open, and the market traders busy. But things are not quite normal. Along with the many soldiers in the streets there is also evidence of the many people who have fled the fighting from rural areas, particularly the children.
“You see them hanging around the market place, on the chance that maybe someone will give them some food or some work so they can earn a bit of money.”
The majority of people fleeing the fighting are agro-pastoralists which means they have left behind their key means of livelihood: their land and their livestock. “For them, losing their land and their cattle is losing everything,” said Soledad.
While many continue to arrive in places like Kadugli, a few have returned to their land in places where the fighting has died down.
“It is a very fluid situation,” said Soledad. “The humanitarian situation is stabilising, at least in the immediate term, as food is being distributed and water is available. Government, NGOs and UN Agencies have worked very hard together in recent months. But of course what these communities really want is to go home. When that will happen -- for the majority at least -- is impossible to know.”