Inadequate Aid as Violence Escalates in South Sudan Emergency

Nairobi/New York, December 14 2009 - The people of Southern Sudan are trapped in a worsening crisis following the most violent year since the 2005 peace agreement that ended more than two decades of civil war with the North. However, the response to the escalating emergency is inadequate, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

In a paper titled ‘Facing Up To Reality: Health Crisis Deepens as Violence Escalates in Southern Sudan,’ MSF calls on government authorities, international donors and relief organizations to recognize the full extent of the crisis and ensure peoples’ immediate humanitarian needs are urgently prioritized.

“Violence is surging, plunging people from one disaster to the next,” said Stephan Goetghebuer, MSF director of operations for Sudan. “Yet immediate needs are not being met. A better response to this growing emergency is crucial, or clinics will continue to run out of vital medicines, gunshot patients will reach medical care many days after attacks, and countless others will receive no care at all.”

Over the last year MSF teams witnessed a disturbing deterioration in the security situation in Southern Sudan, from increasing clashes in Upper Nile, Jonglei, Lakes, and Central Equatoria States, to attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group, in the Equatoria States.

The violent clashes in Jonglei and Upper Nile States that MSF responded to suggest a more serious trend than traditional “cattle-rustling.” Villages, rather than cattle camps, were often attacked, with women and children the majority of victims. In these attacks, three times more people were killed than wounded, and 87 percent of those MSF treated suffered gunshot wounds. MSF performed 1,426 surgeries in the first ten months of 2009 in Jonglei and Upper Nile alone, more than the 1,271 total surgical interventions MSF carried out in all its projects in Southern Sudan in 2008.

“The intensity of this year’s violence has severe consequences,” said Shelagh Woods, MSF deputy head of mission. “We treat injured women who lost entire families, children with legs destroyed by bullets, people who fled without time to bury loved ones. People do not feel safe and live in constant fear of attacks.”

The violence has displaced up to 250,000 people who live in precarious conditions where disease thrives and malnutrition is a grave risk. In the first ten months of 2009, MSF admitted 11,129 patients with severe malnutrition to its clinics, compared to 6,139 admissions for all 2008.

The rising violence aggravates the already dire medical situation in Southern Sudan, where 75 percent of people have no access to even the most basic healthcare, and where large-scale outbreaks of disease threaten lives. MSF has already treated 175 patients in the first six weeks of an outbreak of kala-azar—a fatal, if untreated, parasitic disease—compared to 127 for the whole of 2008.

However, the focus of international donors on longer term development remains disproportionate to that on immediate humanitarian aid.

“Alarm bells must ring when only a handful of agencies are mobilizing to respond to serious needs on time,” said Goetghebuer. “Development alone is not enough in Southern Sudan. Emergency preparedness and humanitarian action must be priorities.”

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an emergency medical humanitarian organization, has been working in Sudan since 1979. The organization currently has permanent projects in Red Sea State, Northern Darfur, Western and Central Equatoria, Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal, Warrap, Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States and Abyei. MSF also runs emergency projects in other areas. MSF is an independent and neutral aid agency that serves all people based on medical need, regardless of tribe, race, political or religious affiliation.