Today, 9 July 2012, South Sudan marks its first year as an independent country after a popular referendum last year massively approved the division of Sudan into two states. But in spite of national flags and official statements, the dramatic fact is that this “new” country has been suffering from mounting poverty, food shortages, refugee crisis and violent clashes, after long decades of wars between the North and the South of Sudan that killed around two million people.
South Sudan extends over 700 sq. kms., over one fourth of Sudan’s totalsurfacee of 2,5 million sq.kms. Its 2000 kilometres long borders limit with Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, RD Congo and Central Africa Republic. And of course also with (North) Sudan itself.
Its population, estimated in around 9 million inhabitants, is composed of more than 200 ethnic groups and is, along with the adjacent Nuba Hills, one of the most linguistically diverse regions of Africa. However, many of the languages are small, with only a few thousand speakers.
The Children’s Drama
Just to pick up one of the many dramatic sources of sufferance for South Sudan’s population, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has just called for the rights of children to be made a priority, stressing that they are vital for the young nation’s growth and stability, according to a new report.
“The foundation of a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan can be strong only if we invest in the country’s youngest citizens,” UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan, Yasmin Ali Haque, said in news release.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan on 9 July last year, six years after the signing of a peace agreement that ended decades of warfare between the north and south.
One of the Riskiest Places on Earth for a Child to Be Born
Half of its population is currently under the age of 18, yet the country has very poor social indicators, including high maternal and infant mortality, high rates of illiteracy and malnutrition, and very limited infrastructure, making it one of the riskiest places in the world for a child to be born.
“The measurement of progress must be in terms of concrete results for children,” said Haque. “We need to improve children’s chances to survive beyond their fifth birthday, to have a chance to go to school and to be protected from violence and conflict.”
According to UNICEF, 70 per cent of children between six and seventeen years of age have never been to school, and the completion rate in primary schools is barely ten per cent, one of the lowest in the world.
Girls Vulnerable to Social Practices
Girls, in particular, remain disadvantaged when it comes to education and are vulnerable to social practices such as early marriage and early child bearing.
In addition, the multiple crises in the country have left many children without basic services, with only 13 per cent of them having access to adequate sanitation.
UNICEF, in conjunction with the Government and development partners, has worked on establishing essential water and sanitation sources, as well as education infrastructure.
In five years, there has been a 40 per cent increase in access to improved sources of drinking water, and over the past year, efforts have been intensified to ensure that children in some of the more disadvantaged schools have a friendlier learning environment.
UNICEF noted that outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan continue to have an impact on children.
Since South Sudan’s independence, the peace between the two countries has been threatened by clashes along their common border and post-independence issues, including the ownership of the Abyei area which straddles the two countries, causing the displacement of thousands of hundreds of people.
The ongoing flux of refugees, the continued threat of conflict and severe food insecurity make it more pressing to address their needs, UNICEF added.
The Refugees Crisis
On 22 June 2012, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged more funding to scale up its assistance to refugees in South Sudan, which it described as among the “most critical” situations it now faces.
By then, there were some 162,500 people who have fled conflict and related food shortages in Sudan and have taken refuge in neighbouring South Sudan.
Another 36,500 have fled to Ethiopia.A sharp surge in refugee numbers in recent weeks in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state has seen an average of 1,000 new arrivals every day, according to the agency.
Funding needs for the relief operation in South Sudan now exceed $219 million, for which UNHCR has so far received just $45.9 million, or less than 21 per cent of what is required.“The situation for refugees in South Sudan is among the most critical UNHCR now faces anywhere,” spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva on 22 JUne, adding that the contributions the agency has received so far for South Sudan “have been exhausted.
”Edwards said many of the new arrivals were in a desperate state with large numbers of children in urgent need of assistance to combat malnourishment. “We are very concerned about the growing mortality rates in the refugee camps,” he said.
“Water shortages present a life-threatening risk, particularly for an already weakened population,” he added. The agency is establishing a baseline survey to gain a better picture of the situation.
UNHCR is currently planning for a refugee population in South Sudan of up to 235,000 people. It is not expecting a further dramatic increase in arrivals in Ethiopia and funding needs there remain unchanged.
*Children attending a class at the Muniki Center Basic School in the Muniki Payam, a sub-district of Juba, South Sudan. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0862/G. Cranston.
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