Urgent action needed as Sudan faces countdown to crucial referendum warn aid agencies

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NEW YORK—World leaders at today’s Sudan summit must take concrete action to help ensure peace, safety and development for all Sudanese people, five international aid agencies said in an open letter. Failure to act risks a new eruption of violence and threatens the future of Africa’s largest country, with just over 100 days until the referendum to decide whether the south should remain part of Sudan.

The International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Tearfund, World Vision and Christian Aid, all of which have worked in Sudan for many years, warned that the next few months are among the most crucial in Sudan’s history. Despite the fast-approaching deadline, many key issues remain unresolved, including the demarcation of the north-south border, voter registration and the sharing of oil revenues. The agencies said diplomatic engagement to help address these must go hand in hand with ensuring civilians are protected from violence, receive the humanitarian aid they need, and that basic development goals are delivered.

“The success or failure of world leaders on Sudan will be judged by the next few months. Time is running out and the stakes today could not be higher. This meeting will show whether they have the commitment to make the financial and political investment needed to help Sudan have a peaceful future. Today’s decisions will affect the lives of millions of Sudanese people,” said Kirsten Hagon, Head of Oxfam’s New York Office.

The landmark 2005 peace agreement that set the stage for the referendum was a great achievement in close partnership with the international community. However the agencies warned that its legacy could be undone over the coming months without a strong plan supported by world leaders, and immediate efforts to prevent violence.

The security situation across Sudan remains volatile as the referendum approaches. In southern Sudan, 188,000 people have been forced from their homes so far this year.

World leaders must not lose focus on the plight of civilians in Darfur, where the UN says the situation has again deteriorated in recent months with a serious increase in civilian deaths and suffering. Some of the most affected areas remain virtually inaccessible to aid workers.

Violence is not the only threat to civilians, the agencies said. After five years of relative peace, southern Sudan still remains one of the poorest and least developed regions of the world. Half the population does not have access to safe drinking water or enough food. Roads, schools and hospitals are scarce. One in seven children die before the age of five, and women are among the most likely in the world to die during childbirth.

“After decades of war and displacement, southern Sudan is being built up virtually from scratch and it needs the support of the rest of the world - right now and for the long-term. Genuine peace and stability will only come when people have access to basic rights and services,” said Susan Purdin, Sudan Country Director of the International Rescue Committee.