Elizabeth Kiem is the online producer of unicefusa.org.
On January 9, Sudan will hold a week-long referendum to determine whether the country will remain as one territory or will be divided. The upcoming vote on Southern Sudan's independence has created significant instability in an already precarious landscape and could result not just in the world's newest nation, but in escalated violence and human displacement as well.
|A malnourished child at a UNICEF-supported feeding center in Al-shabbah.|
UNICEF is pre-positioning supplies in anticipation of a humanitarian crisis in an area currently populated by ½ a million people uprooted by tribal conflict, rebel attacks and clashes with armed forces. These are not mild conflicts - these are attacks targeting and killing women and children. Child abduction is a common tragedy associated with the violence.
Meanwhile, food insecurity has caused widespread nutrition crises with acute malnutrition rates above the emergency threshold of 15%.
UNICEF has been in Sudan since 1952 and is the largest UN agency working in the country to protect women and children. Since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord, UNICEF has operated out of one country office in Khartoum and two area programs - one for the north and one for the south.
Southern Sudan is a vast region with limited infrastructure. Its humanitarian context has been characterized by disease outbreaks, food insecurity, flooding and localized conflicts.
Here are some current indicators for Sudan:
- Population: 40 million, with 40% under age 15.
- Under 5 mortality: 112 per 1,000 live births.
- Maternal mortality: 1,107 per 100,000 live births.
- Clean water supply: 70% lack access; 40% lack safe sanitation.
- IDP's: 4.9 million people internally displaced; 2 million in Darfur.
- Child soldiers: 45,000 children estimated to be associated with armed groups.
Difficulties in addressing Southern Sudan's already low social development indicators are exacerbated by the expected continuing movement of hundreds of thousands of people, returning from refuge or from being internally displaced. But UNICEF's work continues despite the challenges:
- Enabling 5.2 million children to access quality basic education.
- Ensuring at least 80 % of children under the age of 5 and at least 65 per cent of women of child-bearing age have access to a minimum package of health and nutrition services.
- Provision of clean water to more than 2.5 million people for the first time.
- Ensuring access to adequate sanitation for an additional 860,000 people.
- The complete eradication of Guinea Worm.
- Supporting the establishment of wide-ranging policies and community-based services for children in conflict with the law, victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, children suffering discrimination and those without parental care.
- Ensuring 27 million children and young people have access to information and services that reduce their vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.
It's a lot of work and it may be about to become harder. We hope though, that the same is not true for the daily lives of millions in Southern Sudan.