A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Last Tuesday South Sudan, the world's youngest country, celebrated its second anniversary. The new country gained independence on 9th July, 2011 after a referendum held in January that year with an overwhelming 98.83% of voters supporting independence.
A lot remains to be done
Day by day the country is being created using the few available resources. A historic lack of infrastructure continues today. There was no significant investment in the region either during British colonization or during North Sudanese rule, and even today there is still much to be done: schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, airports – virtually everything.
Also laws are still to be made. A transitional constitution is in force while the definitive version is put together. In the meantime, the old legislation – influenced by Islam – from the Sudanese period is in place until new legislation befitting the culture of the new country is formulated.
However, two years after independence, the majority of the population are still not benefiting from this new state, and peace in the region continues to be uncertain.
It is calculated that some two million people do not have sufficient food all year round, of which 170,000 are refugees from Sudan, 160,000 are people displaced by the internal conflict and the rest are suffering from the region's rudimentary agriculture system. In most of the poverty indicators, South Sudan ranks amongst the worst in the world.
Volatile relations with the neighbor in the north
Relations between Sudan and South Sudan have fluctuated during the last two years. Important aspects relating to the coexistence of the two countries were not adequately defined at the time of independence giving rise to numerous disputes – for example, over the precise demarcation of borders, the status of the oil-rich Abyei region (which must hold its own referendum to decide whether to be in the North or the South) and the price for transporting South Sudan's oil along the pipeline crossing the whole of the Sudan, which is refined and then exported via the Red Sea.
As a result of one of these North-South clashes, in January 2012 South Sudan decided to completely cut off its oil production, which at the time represented 98% of the country's income. The impact in South Sudan was devastating, but it was also hugely detrimental to its northern neighbor, destabilizing it politically and creating tremendous economic problems. The South has held out this year with drastic budget cuts and a great deal of foreign economic aid. The population's willingness to continue this new venture has allowed the country to overcome the predicament, something few thought possible.
Oil flowed again in March of this year but now it is the North which threatens to cut off the oil pipeline on 7th August if South Sudan does not withdraw support for militias operating in Sudan.
Basic services are threatened
Alongside this epic endurance and will to continue, the new state needs the urgent support of donors both for its continued existence and to maintain basic services for its inhabitants, to be able to pay those teachers and doctors who, in some great or small way, help the population at this time.
The International Donor Conference which took place in Washington in April brought really good news in this respect. Protocols were established to channel international bilateral aid to support basic services, especially in health and education, through the state setting up necessary control mechanisms.
Oxfam has contributed in a small way to the development of this country by promoting implementation of new agricultural techniques in remote areas, developing agricultural groups, working together with women's groups to diversify production, and making it easyer for rural communities to access clean water to reduce the risk of disease.