Enormous challenges await southern Sudan after historic referendum

Southern Sudan will face enormous challenges and will need long-term support from the rest of the world regardless of the outcome of this week’s referendum, aid agency Oxfam warned today. The vote could create the world’s newest country, which would also be one of the least developed and home to some of the world’s poorest people, the agency said.

After decades of war, southern Sudan is being built up almost from scratch. Over half of the people do not have access to clean drinking water. Three-quarters of its population is illiterate, and there are few schools, hospitals or roads. Oxfam said that localized conflicts are causing widespread suffering, with over 200,000 people forced to flee their homes in 2010. The agency urged world leaders not to forget Sudan once the referendum is over.

“The chronic poverty, lack of development and the threat of violence that blight people’s daily lives will not disappear after the referendum. Whatever the outcome of the vote, these long-term issues need to be addressed. Failure to do so risks undoing any progress made in the past few years,” said Melinda Young, head of Oxfam in southern Sudan.

Tens of thousands of southerners have arrived from northern Sudan in recent months, which Oxfam said is placing a significant strain on communities that already lack water, food, sanitation and shelter.

While the 2005 peace deal, which ended decades of brutal conflict, has brought considerable benefits to the south, many people have been frustrated at the lack of development and basic services. Hopes and expectations for after the referendum are even higher, and if these are not met it could potentially exacerbate tensions and fuel violence, Oxfam said.

“With a young population, abundant resources and fertile land, southern Sudan has the potential to build a successful nation – but only if it receives the support it needs. After so many years of war and suffering, southern Sudanese deserve to be able to access safe water and send their children to school. The world now needs to help them fulfil their hopes and aspirations,” said Young.

Oxfam said diplomatic engagement on Sudan must continue after the referendum, as many key issues remain unresolved, such as the future of the disputed Abyei area and citizenship rights. Many community concerns are still to be addressed: Along the north-south border there is a risk of increased tensions between pastoralists migrating to find water and pasture, and local communities. Minority groups – such as southerners living in northern Sudan, and northerners in the south – must be assured of their rights and safety by both northern and southern authorities.

Civilians also need protecting from violence, Oxfam said, with frequent clashes over resources such as cattle and pasture exacerbated by the legacies of war such as the proliferation of small arms. The agency urged international donors and the Southern Sudan government to invest in building up the police force, which is poorly trained and ill equipped, and a justice system to serve the needs of the most vulnerable.

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Slideshow: Oxfam's humanitarian and livelihoods work in southern Sudan

Notes to editors

Oxfam has broadcast quality footage available for use, showing development needs in the south, recent arrivals from northern Sudan, and interviews with southerners about their hopes and fears.

Read Oxfam's new briefing note, “Beyond Sudan’s big day: What next for one of the least developed places on earth?

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interviews in southern Sudan.

Contact information

Alun McDonald in Juba on +254 73 666 6663, amcdonald@oxfam.org.uk