NAIROBI, 27 May 2011 - Seasonal rains are among several factors to have exacerbated the crisis sparked by the sudden flight of tens of thousands of civilians from the disputed Sudanese region of Abyei, say aid workers, who point to both short- and long-term repercussions.
“Most of the roads in Southern Sudan are not passable during the rains and so that will make the movement of food difficult,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Amor Almagro told IRIN.
This is the second large-scale exodus from Abyei in as many months. In March, some 25,000 people fled the town amid clashes.
Earlier in the year, WFP had prepositioned some 27,000MT of food in Southern Sudan in anticipation of the rains, as part of plans to feed up to 1.5 million people in 2011.
“With what is happening in Abyei now, we will have to consider moving some 2,000MT of food from our logistical hub in El Obeid [North Sudan] to an operational base we are setting up in Wunrok in [Southern Sudan] Warrap state,” said Almagro.
“We have seen thousands of people – mainly women and children – carrying bags on their heads, or sitting on mats on the side of the road, exhausted by hours of walking. The populations of both Abyei and Agok [40km to the south] have been displaced and are spread out in several different areas: near Turalei, near Mayen-Abun and on the road to Agok,” said MSF head of mission Raphael Gorgeu.
“There are severe signs of dehydration among many children who are on the move. We are very concerned about the harsh conditions the displaced population has to endure on the roads. Their health condition can deteriorate rapidly if assistance is not delivered promptly,” he added.
The International Organization for Migration, which is among many agencies responding to the crisis, noted that “tracking and assessing the displaced population has been difficult because many people are still on the move or are hiding in the bush. The continued heavy rainfall has made some roads impassable and this has impeded access to areas where IDPs may be sheltering.”
On 21 May, Khartoum government forces took control of Abyei town, after clashes with soldiers from the soon-to-be-independent south.
Straddling the border, Abyei is supposed to be under a form of joint administration until a referendum determines its permanent status. Delays in this landmark vote have heightened tensions in the region.
For Andrews Atta-Asamoah, senior researcher of the African Conflict Prevention Programme (ACPP) at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the political priority now “is for the international community to insist that the North withdraws from Abyei and reinstate the Abyei Administrative Council. This will pave the way for the thousands of displaced people to return and for normality to resume.”
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