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Humanitarian Situation in Southern Sudan in Crisis

Lisa Schlein | Geneva 20 December 2009

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Southern Sudan is all but forgotten since it signed a peace agreement with the North in January 2005. That officially ended more than 20 years of civil war.

WHO Middle East Head of Emergencies, Irshae Shaikh calls this a tragic mistake. He tells VOA Southern Sudan is the world's worst humanitarian crisis and the world must pay more attention to what is going on there.

"Southern Sudan is faring worse than Darfur at this time," he said. "And, because of lack of political clout or constituency, no one is talking about it. But, at this time, there is increasing violence over 350,000 people who are displaced and about five million in need of humanitarian assistance."

Shaikh does not minimize the ongoing crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur. He says it is important for the world to remain engaged in that situation. And, he notes international and private aid agencies are lining up to provide assistance to the displaced.

However, he notes even agencies that still are working in Southern Sudan are leaving because they have run out of money and the area is increasingly insecure.

He says there is a new trend of violence in the Upper Nile State, which is very different from the inter-tribal violence that used to occur there.

"Now we are seeing more women and children being shot," he added. "More and more cases that are being seen by MSF and others are more of gunshot cases. And rather than cattle rustlers, villagers are being attacked. So, there is a new dynamic and paradigm of violence and a humanitarian crisis in Southern Sudan for that matter with increasing displacement and a limited sphere of humanitarian service providers."

Southern Sudan has some of the grimmest health statistics in the world. WHO reports mortality is extremely high. It notes 2,000 out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth and one in seven women die from causes related to childbirth.

WHO finds Infant mortality runs over 150 per 1,000 births. It says only one-in-five children is fully vaccinated against killer diseases. Tens of thousands of cases of acute watery diarrhea were reported in 2009 and 97 percent of the population has no access to proper sanitation.

WHO Emergency Expert Irshae Shaikh says the situation in Darfur merits continued attention and humanitarian support from all governments. But, so does Southern Sudan. He appeals to the international community not to forget the millions of people who are in dire need of help.

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