June 10, 2011 (TURALEI, Warrap state) – Community leaders from the contested region of Abyei on Friday called for more humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled to various parts of the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region after the outbreak of violence in the oil-producing area.
“Our people are scattered. Some are still missing and others are being traced. They need more assistance. They need shelters; they need food and of course medical services”, Kuol Deng Kuol, paramount chief of the Nine Ngok chiefdoms told Sudan Tribune.
The government of South Sudan estimate that 150,000 people have been forced to leave the volatile region of Abyei to neighboring states where they are lacking essential basic services.
Abyei was occupied by the northern Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on May 21 in a move it said was to bring to security to the area after two attacks by isolated southern armed groups against SAF convoys.
James Kok Ruea, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management while speaking at Abyei community briefing last week in Juba said the IDPs were facing a lot of challenges including lack of food and shelters.
Kok said some of the people were still living in the open areas under trees and that he was coordinating individual donations and other humanitarian assistances to be delivered to the most affected family members in Twic County, Warrap State and in Agok in Abyei.
The minister further added that he would deliver 10,000 tents to Agok to the displaced persons and called on international organizations operating across the region to direct their humanitarian assistances to the people of Abyei immediately.
South Sudan voted to become independent from the north in January as part of a 2005 peace. Abyei was supposed to hold its own vote to determine if it would join the south or remain in the northern state of South Kordofan but the plebiscite vote did not go ahead as the two sides could not agree on who could vote.
Sudan Tribune while visiting areas hosting internally displaced persons in Turalei, observed the presence of thousands of people, including elderly people and breastfeeding women holding newly born babies displaced from the Abyei area living in the open under trees without food and basic necessities.
Emergency food assistance from international aid agencies, including the UN World Program (WFP), hardly covers the huge number of internally displaced persons. Some people say they only received food assistance on arrival and do not know when the next rations would be distributed.
Colonel Dominic Deng Kuoc Malek, the Twic county commissioner, Warrap State, said in an interview with Sudan Tribune that the number of the IDPs has increased and that he expects international humanitarian organizations and the Government of South Sudan to increase assistance.
“The number of the internally displaced persons has increased. There are now over 80,000 people registered in Twic County. The rest have crossed to other neighboring states where they have [been] received and registered”, said Commissioner Malek.
Commissioner Malek said that local resources have been over stretched and that some people still live outside in the open areas mostly under trees due to the inadequacy of shelters
“Although we have tried our best to allow schools, churches, shops and any hard standing to be used as shelters, we are still having a lot of people living in the open areas,” said the commissioner. “We have asked all community leaders to provide shelters and any other humanitarian assistance”, he adds.
“It is too difficult for these people, especially the elderly people and women with small [children] to live in the open areas under trees while it is [the] rainy season,” he said, adding that the county continues receiving people.
The United Nations World Food Programme said over 80,000 IDPs have been identified and registered around three areas of Turalei, Mayen Abun, and Wunrok and have received food rations immediately after arrival and that the identification and registration process is in progress .
“At the moment, we have received a lot of people. We have received close to 80,000 people in the three different locations. These people are scattered to Turalei, Mayen Abun and Wunrok. They have all have been identified and received rations. Our verifications process is still continuing”, explained a WFP representative who declined to be named having not been authorized to speak to the media.
In Geneva, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is leading efforts to track and register IDPs, said it had registered and verified 83,526 of a total 105,977 people who fled Abyei.
Most of the IDPs are concentrated in Mayen Abun, Agok, Wunrok and Turalei in Warrap State. Displaced persons from Abyei have also been confirmed in the states of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Unity.
IOM staff say 56 percent of the displaced are women, while 21 percent are children under four years. They are all in need of shelter, food and non-food assistance. Baby food and milk are particularly needed as 10 percent of the displaced are women with babies. Staff on the ground say there is a high number of traumatised pregnant and lactating women who require special attention.
“The needs are immense and while most of the affected population has been reached, we are on standby for additional displacement and more importantly, growing needs during the rainy season,” said Gerry Waite, Head of IOM Juba office during a visit to IDP locations in Warrap State.
The Abyei community leaders made the appeal for more humanitarian assistance a day after prominent US Congressman, Frank Wolf, on Thursday, called on the Obama administration to send former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Sudan to attempt to secure a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Abyei and salvage the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in the weeks remaining before South Sudan becomes an independent nation.
On Wednesday Wolf, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the Congressional Sudan Caucus, made the request in a letter to president Obama in which he expressed concern of the humanitarian situation in both Abyei and South Kordofan.
The letter expressed concern at the “rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan, especially in Abyei and Southern Kordofan.” He strongly urged President Obama “to act swiftly to dispatch former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Sudan to attempt to secure a peaceful resolution of the crisis and salvage the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in the weeks remaining before South Sudan becomes an independent nation. I am afraid Sudan could plunge into another major war if a peaceful resolution is not soon found.”
In Paris, the French government said concerned by the deteriorating security situation in Abyei and reiterated its call to the parties to immediately withdraw all armed groups from the disputed area) and to resolve the Abyei issue peacefully,” said a statement released by the foreign ministry.
France further urged Khartoum government to do everything that can to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and IDPs return. It also requested to allow UNMIS peacekeepers to move freely in Abyei, and to prosecute the perpetrators of atrocities.
Around two million were killed in Sudan’s second civil war (1983-2005) and a further four million displaced.