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Africa: Humanitarian Situation in Sudan and South Sudan

April 02, 2012 / --

Special Briefing
Catherine Wiesner
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Princeton Lyman
   Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan 
USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Christa Capozzola
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
April 2, 2012

MR. VENTRELL: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. Today's conference call is on the record. With us we have Catherine Wiesner, who is a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration; Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan; and Christa Capozzola, who is from USAID, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

Right now, we're going to go ahead and have some opening remarks by Ms. Wiesner, and then we will turn it over to Q&A for all three of our speakers. So without further ado, over to Ms. Wiesner.

MS. WIESNER: Good morning, everybody, and thank you very much for your interest and for being on this call. As Patrick said, my name is Catherine Wiesner. I'm a new Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and I returned last week from a visit to South Sudan. What I'm going to do is give five to ten minutes of introductory remarks before we open it up for questions, and then we will also rely on my colleagues, Christa Capozzola from USAID, and Ambassador Lyman, the special envoy, to help answer whatever questions you may have.

The specific information that we would like to share with you today is about one aspect of the humanitarian situation in Sudan and South Sudan that has resulted from the ongoing conflict in the two areas, so to speak, along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. And I really have three main messages. The first and the reason for this call is to talk about 140,000 new refugees who have been created by the conflicts in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and who have fled from Sudan across the new international border to South Sudan as well as to Ethiopia and a few that have gone as far as Kenya.

Secondly, that the influx of these refugees from Sudan is occurring against a backdrop of very complex humanitarian needs in South Sudan that I think most of you are aware of, but includes hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who are returning from the north and other neighboring countries as well as significant numbers of people who are internally displaced within the country.

And finally, that with this complex situation, it means that humanitarian needs are really expected to continue in both Sudan and South Sudan for some time to come.

So to set the stage, the fighting that erupted last year within the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan not only threatens the possibility for resumption of direct conflict between the north and the south – that's really been the main concern – but also the violence has resulted in significant displacement and humanitarian need. So in addition to those who remain displaced and in need of assistance within South Kordofan and Blue Nile, 140,000 refugees from the two states have fled.

The arrival of 100,000 of these refugees to South Sudan, as I mentioned, occurs against this complex backdrop of humanitarian needs. According to UN OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, South Sudan is reportedly witnessing today the largest semi-peacetime movement of people since World War II in a country, and that includes those various populations that I mentioned previously. South Sudan is also a host to refugees from conflict and other surrounding states from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from the Central African Republic, and even Ethiopia. And lastly, there is chronic and rising food insecurity throughout the country, which exacerbates the situation.

WFP and FEWS NET or FAO, I think – Christa can correct me later – have predicted that 4.7 million people will be food insecure in South Sudan this year, of which at least 1 million are projected to be severely food insecure. So that's sort of the broader context by way of intro. And while I think you're all aware of reports – I know you're all aware of reports of clashes over the last week or so in Southern Kordofan state, the focus of my trip was actually the recent influx of refugees from Blue Nile state, where fighting also continues. And the vast majority of the refugees from the two areas have come from Blue Nile state, and it’s Upper Nile state in South Sudan that hosts the largest concentration of these refugees.

There are 86,000 refugees in Upper Nile from Blue Nile, and they’re located in two main sites, which are Doro and Jimam. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the International Organization for Migration, are two key partners of the U.S. Government and of PRM, the bureau that I work for, and they receive a significant share of our humanitarian funding. They both issued emergency appeals last month for funds to finance their response operation. So having recently come onboard and with – Africa assistance is one of my areas of responsibility – I took the opportunity to make my first trip to Southern Sudan so that I could see the situation firsthand. And I traveled to Upper Nile state, which again, is on the border with Sudan and where the largest concentration of refugees are.

I had been told in advance that the recent influx had really stretched the response capacity, and – but that things were finally starting into place – to fall into place, and this is really what I found to be true. The area where the refugees are arriving is remote, it’s sparsely populated, and much of it rests in a flood zone that becomes inaccessible by road for much of the six-month rainy season. The rains are set to begin in a month or so, and so in this difficult context, the agencies are really in a race against time to get all the supplies in place, and the sheer pace of influx has really imposed enormous pressure.

In December, the number of refugees began to swell from about 25,000 in mid-December to over 80,000 by the end of February, and it was then that UNHCR initiated an emergency airlift of tents, plastic sheeting, and other relief supplies from Kenya and Dubai. Somewhat paradoxically, because it’s a flood zone, there are few existing clean water sources for hosting such a large population, so water, sanitation, hygiene are all top concerns. And whereas the accepted minimum standards for emergencies call for 15 liters of water a day person, refugees in Doro and Jimam are currently only receiving an average of between six and nine liters per person each day.

Drilling is ongoing. Locating clean water in sufficient quantities has been one of the major challenges. It has also delayed site planning, and it – which has left many refugees living under temporary plastic sheeting awaiting their relocation.

Food distribution was sporadic for several months, but in March, WFP was able to successfully establish a new pipeline by bringing – shipping emergency foodstuff to the port in Djibouti and bringing it in through Ethiopia, so now food supplies have become adequate.

And finally, health actors are bracing for and developing contingency plans against malaria and cholera outbreaks.

As I mentioned, it’s really a complex situation in South Sudan of various humanitarian crises, and Upper Nile is a good example of that. Before this latest refugee influx, it was already home to about 80,000 returnees who had been displaced during the long civil war. If you're aware of stories of returnees being stranded en route during their journey back, the riverside towns of Rank and Malakal along the Nile are in Upper Nile, and in addition, there are approximately 12,000 internally displaced South Sudanese in the state who have been displaced due to rebel militia activity.

So this means that agencies were present in Upper Nile and to some extent were prepared to mobilize quickly for the refugee response, but it also means that their capacity is not unlimited and the new emergency has them trying to cover multiple situations at once.

Maybe before I end, I can just share a few of my personal impressions. In – so, as I mentioned, the refugees are arriving into very remote areas, and that basically means that everything has to be established from scratch. So UNHCR and partners are fixing an airfield, they're building roads, they're drilling boreholes, as I mentioned. They were a bit lucky, because some years back, they had used the nearby town of Funj as a way station for returning refugees from Ethiopia. So they had like one old warehouse and a working borehole or two that they were able to use, but obviously the needs quickly outstripped that initial capacity.

The UN and NGO staff that I met were working flat-out every day. They'd been living out of tents themselves for several months, and their offices are basically a laptop with a plastic chair under a thatch shade in very searing heat.

The refugees themselves arrive exhausted from their journeys, sometimes in need of immediate medical attention, and in talking to refugees in the different camps, I found that most people were really quite relieved to finally be in a place of safety away from the bombings and grateful for the assistance they were receiving, but at the same time, they're definitely worried about loved ones with whom they had been separated and understandably anxious about their daily survival needs.

I had heard worrying reports before I went that people in Jimam Camp were eating leaves to survive, and as it turns out, there – certain wild leaves boiled with spices are, in fact, a traditional dish for some of these tribes. So it would be more appropriate to say that refugees like those who remain in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan have resorted to traditional coping mechanisms of eating various types of wild food, but it’s also obvious that boiled leaves of any kind are not enough for anybody to survive on.

However, perhaps because a month’s worth of food rations had recently been distributed when I arrived, when I spoke to groups of women in both camps their main concern was water. People are really desperate for water. I personally can’t imagine having only seven liters of water per day. I think I drink more than that, much less cook with it or wash with it.

But as I said, people are definitely, overall, most glad and thankful to be in a safe place. At the same, they are carrying their experiences of the last six months with them. Fighting broke out in Blue Nile in September of last year, and most of these people have been on the move since then, and only recently reached these refugee camps.

In Doro camp, for example, I watched – I went to an activities center and watched crowds of children who were playing soccer and jump rope and practicing traditional dances. These are the safe activities spaces that are set up for children so that they have a place to play in the crowded camps, and it’s one of the very important early child protection interventions with – together with schooling, that helps to normalize things. Even so, I was told by the volunteers working with the children that many of them have been digging foxholes for themselves even in the camps. So even though they’re told they are now safe, it makes them feel more secure to have hiding places.

I also met a young woman in the Jamam camp who agreed to show me her small shelter made out of thatch and plastic sheeting. And when we got there, I met her three children, including a very sweet little baby girl that she had given birth to on the way and named Dana, which she said meant “bomb” in her dialect. So the experience of violence and flight is still very close to these people.

I think, to sum up before we go into the questions and answers, clashes are continuing in both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Humanitarian conditions are understood to be deteriorating in both conflict zones, and so additional arrivals are expected in the coming months. The number of refugees in Upper Nile has already exceeded UNHCR’s planning figure, which was for 75,000. They’ve revised that planning figure upwards to 150,000 by the end of 2012. And with these numbers, obviously, the agencies remain in a race against time.

The U.S. Government has provided 6.8 million of initial funding from our refugee assistance monies for the emergency response in both South Sudan and Ethiopia. Three million of this has gone to UNHCR, 2 million has gone to IOM, and 1.8 million to NGOs. The U.S. is currently looking at additional contributions to UNHCR’s $145 million emergency appeal as well as to NGO partners addressing critical gaps. The U.S. Government has also given – let me get this figure – 80.4 million to WFP for their emergency food operations throughout South Sudan that include assistance to the refugees in Upper Nile and Unity states. And USAID can provide information on their operations countrywide.

So I will leave my opening – rather long opening remarks there, and all three of us will be available to take your questions. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1, and you will be prompted to record your first and your last name. Please un-mute your phone before recording your name. And to withdraw your question, press *2. One moment please.

Our first question comes from Shaun Tandon. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. Thanks for doing this call. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the situation within Sudan. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, there have lots of accounts that, due to bombing, there’s been a problem with the harvest, that there could be imminent food shortages. Are those things that you’re hearing now as well? And what do you think in terms of policy ramifications, what if anything the U.S. and other international actors can do to ensure sufficient food within Sudan?

MS. CAPOZZOLA: Hi. This is Christa Capozzola from AID. I can start off with an answer to your question. Thanks for that question. Yes. The conflicts that began last June in Southern Kordofan and in September in Blue Nile did disrupt the planting seasons quite significantly. In certain parts of Blue Nile, it’s estimated that only 15 percent was planted. It disrupted the commercial farming as well, which affects people’s incomes. So that creates a lot of concerns.

And yes, there is definitely rising food insecurity – a very serious level of food insecurity. Our FEWS NET analysts have now estimated that in Blue Nile, the area – the source of the refugees that Catherine’s been talking about, we will be reaching emergency level conditions by August. In Southern Kordofan, it’s actually worse. We are estimating that between 200- and 250,000 people are right now reaching emergency food security – insecurity conditions.

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: This is Princeton Lyman. Let me just add a little bit to that. Thanks, Christa. There is a proposal by the UN, the Africa Union, and the League of Arab States to launch humanitarian assistance into Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. That is still under discussion with the government in Khartoum. They haven’t yet okayed it. And we’ve pressed very, very hard for that. There are ways to get food in other ways, but they are not sufficient to the scope of the problem, as Christa has described. The UN envoy, Haile Menkerios, is in Khartoum right now pursuing negotiations with the government to get that humanitarian access approved. We think it’s vital, and we think it’s a very high priority.

MR. VENTRELL: Operator, we’re ready for the next question.

OPERATOR: Yes. Our next question comes from Lalit Jha. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. India has just sent a special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan for protecting – for its energy interests. How do you view this, India sending its – also, you know China has sent it a few months ago to protect its oil interest. How do you view the interests of all – of these two countries in Sudan and South Sudan?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Hi. This is Princeton Lyman. We welcome that degree of interest. As you know, both China and India have significant investments in the oil sector. And as a result, they both have an interest in a stable and peaceful relationship between the two countries because, as you know, much of the oil is in the south, the infrastructure to export it in the north. So we have been in touch on many occasions with the Chinese, and then – and I’ve been in touch with the new Chinese envoy. I have not yet met the new envoy from India, but we’re delighted that they are taking part in diplomatic efforts to both help ease the tension and encourage the governments to reach an agreement on oil as well as other issues.

QUESTION: And as a follow-up – and what kind of role do you see for India? What kind of steps you want India to take in Sudan and South Sudan?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Well, I think for all of us in the international community, and that would – it would be true for India as well, that – to urge a resolution of the conflicts that are going on, because it’s hard to see the full implementation of an oil agreement if the two sides are fighting at the border or if there is continued unrest in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that spills over between the two countries.

So I think for all of us in the international community, it’s important not only to encourage the governments to reach an agreement on oil, but to reach an agreement on the issues that are dividing them so sharply and creating so much conflict. So it – we all need to engage in a broad diplomatic effort, not just on one issue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ashish Sen. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this. I had two questions. My first was about the decision by the government in South Sudan to shut off oil, which is a major source of revenue. Can you talk a bit about how that’s put an additional burden on NGOs and organizations like USAID, especially when the south is now coping with this huge humanitarian crisis?

And the second is specifically for Ambassador Lyman. Ambassador, South Sudanese officials have complained that the African Union report to the UNSC portrays South Sudan as an aggressor in the recent hostilities. Do you share that assessment? Thank you.

MS. CAPOZZOLA: Princeton, do you want to go first or do you want me to take it first on impact on USAID? I’m happy to go first. Your question on impact on USAID – I mean, obviously, we’re still hopeful that the situation will be resolved, and the South Sudanese budget will not be severely affected over the long term. We are very concerned about growing humanitarian needs this year in South Sudan, even before we start to estimate how budget shortfalls will impact people in concrete ways.

The number of food insecure people in South Sudan is up this year compared to last year. It’s most recently been estimated at 4.7 million people. Last year, it was less than 2 million people. So this is really a major concern. As Catherine alluded to earlier, we’ve got a large number of South Sudanese returning from Sudan, which puts extra pressure on our partner-NGO capacity to provide assistance – initial assistance and support to communities who are absorbing all these people who are returning.

So we’ve been doing a number of things over the last year and a half to pre-position aid and capacity to deal with this, in particular in the northern states that border the two countries. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. WIESNER: This is Catherine Wiesner. I’ll just jump in with one anecdote. Obviously, the real concern with the shutdown are the budget shortfalls and the impact that it has on the Government of Southern Sudan’s ability to provide for its own people to the extent that it had planned to. An interesting anecdote that I learned when I traveled to Upper Nile was that the shutdown of the oil facilities has also had a direct impact on humanitarian operations, in that the oil companies had taken responsibility for maintaining much of the roads in the areas where they operated. And that regular maintenance is what’s required to keep some of those roads open to Malakal and other major towns in and around the camps during the rainy season. So this was an additional burden that was now falling on the humanitarian community to figure out how to keep those roads maintained so that relief services could continue.

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: This is Princeton Lyman to take your second question. I think it’s important to note after that UN Security Council meeting that the UN Security Council issued a unanimous statement that was quite balanced and represented a very good statement and a well-received statement by the UN Security Council. I think some of the issues that came up about that have been well addressed in the negotiations subsequently. I was a participant in the negotiations in Addis a couple of weeks ago and have been following the ones going on now.

And I think the Africa Union panel in the South African – South Sudan Government, as well as the Sudan Government, are engaged very well in that process indeed, right now today, even as we speak, a meeting is underway of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, a very important military-to-military discussion between the two countries under the auspices of the Africa Union panel. So I think the panel is doing outstanding work, and I think both countries are working closely with it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Andrew Quinn. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. It’s Andrew Quinn from Reuters. A couple of quick questions for Ambassador Lyman. Firstly, Ambassador Lyman on the oil sector, I remember before South Sudan shut off – shut down the oil production, you were warning that if they did this for any extended period of time it could damage the infrastructure and it could be hard to get that whole oil machine up and running again. Given that it is now shut off and you have these reports of attacks on Southern Sudanese oil installations, what’s your assessment of the state of their oil industry and how quickly it could be brought back online if that was, sort of, politically feasible? And the second question is: I’m wondering if you can give us an update on what your expectations or hopes are for the Kiir-Bashir summit that has been delayed?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Well, I think the – South Sudan was very careful with the shutdown to avoid as much as possible damage. I defer to experts far greater than mine as to problems that will arise if the shutdown goes on for a very long period of time. But I think the general feeling is that it would take a little while to start up production, get it going again, getting the oil flowing. There may be some damage that has to be taken care of.

And I think in terms of the economic impact, it – there is a feeling that from the time of an oil agreement to the time that South Sudan begins to receive payment for oil could be as much as three to four months. So there is a significant time period that’s affected.

I don’t think the attacks in Unity state actually were on the oil installations in Unity state. Those attacks seem to be more related to border issues and closing of borders related to what the government in Khartoum feels is support to those fighting in Southern Kordofan. But I think it’s very important that both sides be extremely careful under the current tensions and fighting at the border, that neither crosses the line of attacking oil installations, because I think that would deepen the conflict very much.

The summit was, as you said, postponed. We’re hoping that out of the talks going on now in Addis and subsequent talks, that it will be rescheduled. And it’s very important because it will not only follow up on agreements that were reached a few weeks ago in Addis on nationalities and borders, but it will create, hopefully, a set of steps that will lead to better negotiations on the other issues, including oil. Because there needs to be serious negotiations on the oil sector, and new guidelines have to come from the presidents to facilitate that negotiation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Operator, do we have any further questions?

OPERATOR: Once again, to ask a question, please press * 1. I am showing no questions.


OPERATOR: We did have a question come in.

MR. VENTRELL: Oh, we do? Okay. Go ahead.

OPERATOR: Ashish Sen, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks again. This is for Ambassador Lyman. Ambassador Lyman, in the past, U.S. officials have raised concerns with officials in South Sudan about accusations of them supporting rebels in Sudan, specifically in South Kordofan and in Unity state – and Blue Nile, sorry. Have you any indication that this support still continues? And accusations by the government in Khartoum that it was the South that provoked the recent attacks in Heglig – have you seen any indication to support those claims?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: This is Princeton Lyman. Thank you. Look, what’s right on the agenda in the meeting going on in Addis today are the issues that you raised, that is there are accusations from Khartoum that South Sudan is supporting the rebels in Southern Kordofan. There are also charges from Juba that the government in Khartoum supports militias destabilizing South Sudan. It’s very important that the two sides sit down and discuss these issues very candidly between them, because neither side should be trying to destabilize the other.

But it would also be a mistake to think that the troubles in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are only because of possible support from the South. There are internal issues there, political issues, security issues leftover from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that haven’t been addressed. And the Government of Sudan must address those issues with the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to really end the conflict there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: We had another question come in. Charlene Porter, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you for doing this. It’s Charlene Porter with the International News Service of the State Department. There’s – you all have mentioned many different aspects of this situation going on, but I’d ask you to step back for a moment and make an assessment about in the young life of this new nation. How do you figure it’s going? Is this better or worse than what you might have expected in the first year of the lifetime of South Sudan?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Well, this is Princeton Lyman. I’ll start and welcome Christa’s and Catherine’s thoughts as well. Look, this is a country that was absolutely devastated by war over 20 years, starting from a very, very difficult situation of limited infrastructure, loss of – great, great amounts of loss of life, lack of development, et cetera. So to judge it by a year or even by the autonomous period from 2005, one has to take that into account.

I think a lot of institutions have been developed. I think there’s been serious efforts to take on a lot of these issues. But frankly, the country faces an enormous number of challenges, some of which have been discussed already, major humanitarian needs, problems of returnees, of refugees. There are ethnic conflicts that have taken place in Jonglei and other parts of South Sudan. So this is really a country that has many, many challenges. And the crisis in the oil sector only makes that more difficult because 98 percent of South Sudan’s budget was coming from oil. So resolution of that problem is really quite urgent.

So I would say that, given the challenges, the country has put together its independence and moved forward reasonably well, but these are problems that are going to take years and years to address. And maybe AID and PRM would like to add some to that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. WIESNER: Princeton gave a great – Ambassador Lyman gave a great overview. Maybe I would just add a few things. From the refugee perspective, for example, this government, which has such little capacity to begin with following the years of war, at least one problem we don’t have is the granting of first asylum to refugees. I think based on the history of the war and the experiences that those in Southern Sudan had being refugees themselves in surrounding countries, they’ve been incredibly welcoming to refugees coming into their country, and that’s one positive.

Another related positive is that, as Ambassador Lyman mentioned, institutions have been developed. Capacity is low, but for better or for worse, you do have a number of government employees who have worked with the international community on emergency and humanitarian response over the course of the civil war and so do have some significant experience in that realm and are able to interact with the humanitarian community in a principled way on humanitarian response.

So I think overall this is not the direction we would have wanted the country to go in, in terms of the oil shutdown and the ongoing internal conflicts as well as conflicts along the border, but there are a few bright spots that we see, even in this context.

MS. CAPOZZOLA: This is Christa from USAID. I would just add very briefly that, as Ambassador Lyman said, we’re emerging out of half a century of conflict; it’s not surprising that we’re dealing with resolving layer upon layer of conflicts around these two nations right now. And connected to assistance, there are millions of people who were made vulnerable by these many, many years of conflict and displacement, and this is going to take a lot of time to sort out. And perhaps expectations that humanitarian needs would be over that – once a peace agreement and independence was achieved, was not really realistic. This is going to take years to normalize. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Show no further questions.

MR. VENTRELL: Thank you all for joining the call, and have a good day.

PRN: 2012/497

Source: Department of State