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UNICEF provides thousands of people displaced by Sudanese fighting with life-saving services

© UN Photo/Paul Banks
Residents gather outside UNMIS sector headquarters in Kadugli. As many as 60,000 people may have fled fighting in Sudan's Southern Kordofan state after nearly a week of clashes between northern forces and southern-aligned groups.

By Simon Ingram

KHARTOUM, Sudan, 15 June 2011 – Ten days after hostilities erupted in and around Kadugli, the morning routine for the small UNICEF team still in the town has begun to take on a familiar feel.

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“The bombardment starts at about 6 a.m.,” said UNICEF water specialist Anil Vyas, speaking by phone from Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan state. “That wakes everybody up.”

As Southern Sudan prepares for independence from the north on 9 July, Kadugli and other parts of Southern Kordofan near Sudan’s disputed internal border have seen an escalation in violence, with thousands of people forced to flee.

Some 20 UNICEF staff – mostly Sudanese, but including two internationals – have been living and working out of the compound of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on the outskirts of Kadugli since making a hurried departure from the UNICEF office and guesthouse when the fighting started.

In the rush to find safety, equipment, documents and personal belongings were all left behind. The homes of many local staff soon fell prey to looters.

© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Vyas
UNICEF staff and partners prepare to distribute jerrycans to people forced to flee their homes by the fighting in and around Kadugli, Sudan.

Delivering against the odds

With the security situation so perilous, movement outside the UNMIS compound is extremely limited. That has meant making some unusual arrangements to ensure that the estimated 10,000 displaced people sheltering in a makeshift camp near the UNMIS base receive some desperately-needed support – especially supplies of clean water.

“Because we are unable to go to town ourselves, we asked the Indian peacekeeping contingent to take the two tankers into town every day to bring the water to the displaced people,” explained Mr. Vyas. “It takes them six hours to make the journey there and back, because of all the checkpoints and other obstacles on the roads.”

The Indian troops help with another vital function as well – maintaining order when the water is dispensed to long lines of people jostling to fill their jerrycans from each 20,000 litre consignment of water.

“There’s no-one else bringing water here so the people are desperate for every drop,” said Mr. Vyas. “Now at least each displaced family has enough for drinking and cooking.”

For Mr. Vyas, the moment of greatest satisfaction came with confirmation that diarrhoeal and eye infection cases in the camp are declining, an improvement attributed by World Health Organization officials to the water supplies brought in by UNICEF and its partners.

Another contributing factor was the 50 cartons of soap that the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team – in coordination with the Ministry of Water Resources and local non-governmental organization Mubadiroon – was able to distribute to the camp and two local hospitals.

© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Vyas
UNICEF Kadugli Field Office head Soledad Herrero talks with displaced children in Southern Kordofan state, Sudan. UNICEF is helping deliver vital supplies.

Vital health interventions

Other small-scale interventions are making an impact as well. About 750 heavy-duty plastic sheets arrived with a road convoy that managed to get through from El Obeid, some 250 km to the north. UNICEF and Mubadiroon managed to distribute them to families who had previously had no shelter either from the hot sun, or from the seasonal rains which are now falling in Kordofan.

With markets closed, food is in short supply, in spite of food rations being handed out by the World Food Programme and the Sudanese Red Crescent Society. Nutrition screening carried out among 283 displaced children revealed 22 cases of severe and 109 of moderate malnutrition. All these children have been provided with high-energy biscuits.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF health team has been delivering essential drug kits and oral rehydration salts to the two clinics that have been set up in the camp. Less easily accomplished was the delivery of essential medicines to several locations for displaced people rendered completely inaccessible by the fighting.

This was the result of what UNICEF Kadugli Field Office head, Soledad Herrero, describes as “heroic efforts” by partners and UNICEF’s own staff, including the office guards who she says risked their lives to ensure the UNICEF office remained protected from looters.

Making a difference

“We may be only reaching a small proportion of the people affected by this crisis, but I am so proud of what our team have accomplished in an incredibly difficult situation,” she said. At one point, UNICEF staff was surviving on one meal a day. Water is almost as scarce in the UNMIS compound as it is for the many displaced people outside.

For Ms. Herrero, the moment she will most treasure was finding a young girl who went missing in the panic of one particularly heavy bombardment. “We found the girl and when her mother came to me, we were all hugging and crying together. I felt completely overcome by the emotion of that moment.”




15 June 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron speaks with Chief of UNICEF’s Kadugli Field Office, Soledad Herrero, about the situation in the Sudanese region 10 days after hostilities erupted.
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