Are you confused about what’s going on in the Darfur region of Sudan? How about South Sudan? What’s the difference between the two?
Until 2011, they were one country. That year, following decades of civil war, the southern section seceded, becoming the world’s newest nation: South Sudan. Today, conflict continues to roil both countries. Here’s a short primer on this troubled region and what Oxfam is doing to help.
Conflict in Darfur, Sudan
On the western border of Sudan sits the vast and impoverished region of Darfur, home to an estimated 7.5 million people—about 21 percent of the country’s total population of 35 million. A remote and increasingly parched place, Darfur remains cut off from Khartoum, the nation’s capital, 1,000 miles away. The single artery connecting the two—the West Salvation Road—has never been finished.
Early in 2003, armed groups launched a rebellion in Darfur claiming the region had suffered decades of political marginalization and economic neglect from successive national governments. The government responded with force, and the fighting quickly escalated.
“If there was one single wise person who said yes, we’ll maintain security, we could have averted the suffering now,” said El Fateh Osman, Oxfam’s country director in Sudan. “The government chose an aggressive military option. That option did not work.”
Armed militias, known as Janjaweed, began systematically attacking and destroying villages considered sympathetic to the rebels. In the six years that followed, Darfuris saw nearly 3,000 of their villages destroyed or damaged. In the first 10 years of the conflict, the UN estimated that 300,000 people lost their lives.
The conflict and upheaval aren’t over. In Darfur, 3.2 million people are still displaced and living in camps. Each year new violence surges, sometimes forcing hundreds of thousands of Darfuris to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere—often in places where they lack access to food, water, and basic sanitation facilities.
Since 2011, the government and rebel forces have also clashed in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan—a conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes. And refugees have flooded into Sudan, as well, in the wake of recent violence in South Sudan.
What Oxfam is doing in Sudan
Oxfam's emergency response in Sudan scaled up rapidly in late 2003 in Darfur when the crisis first erupted. Since then, we have worked with partners and displaced communities on programs that have included delivering clean water and sanitation facilities, sharing information about health and hygiene, helping farmers in vulnerable rural areas improve their harvests, supporting women to start small businesses and to improve their families’ nutrition, helping communities protect themselves from climate-related crises like drought, and helping leaders build peace in their communities.
Our humanitarian work has also focused on people affected by conflict in the border state of South Kordofan, and now we are assisting refugees from South Sudan.
“I was able to speak to some women at the camp. They were just living under a shelter made of fabric and held up with a few sticks,” said Oxfam humanitarian program manager Sahar Ali after traveling to Darfur to visit a displaced community. “They had almost no food to eat. The stories that they were telling me about how they fled their homes with only the clothes on their back were very painful. They didn’t know how the future would look. We’ll do what we can to help them.”
Learn more about Oxfam’s support for people affected by armed conflict in Sudan, and help us provide aid to families in need.
Conflict in South Sudan
When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, ebullience was the mood of the land. But today, violence and newly declared famine in parts of the country have replaced the high hopes its citizens once had.
For the past three years, fighting--coupled with a collapsing economy—has ravaged the country with devastating consequences: 100,000 people are now facing starvation with millions more in urgent need of assistance. The UN and the South Sudanese government declared famine in parts of Unity State in the northern-central section of the country on February 20, 2017.
Without immediate assistance, this man-made tragedy is poised to get worse. By July, half of all South Sudanese citizens could be facing extreme hunger.
“In over 30 years working in the affected areas, Oxfam has never witnessed such dire need,” said Noah Gottschalk, a senior humanitarian policy advisor for the organization. “People have been pushed to the brink of surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps and so often in a crisis, women and children are those worst affected. We need an end to the fighting so that we can get food to those who urgently need it and provide them with support to rebuild their shattered lives.”
Almost the size of Texas, South Sudan has abundant oil reserves. Still, most people make their living as subsistence farmers and herders. But because of the conflict, more than three million people have been forced from their homes. And with inflation skyrocketing—up to 800 percent a year—many families are struggling to buy even the basics, such as food.
Making things worse, outbreaks of cholera, a deadly waterborne disease, have hit nine of the country’s 32 states: There are now more than 4,700 active cases. As the economy has worsened the cost of buying clean water has increased substantially, forcing many people to resort to unsafe sources.
What Oxfam is doing in South Sudan
In 2016, Oxfam reached more than 600,000 people with emergency and long-term support. Our aim is to meet the urgent needs of the most vulnerable people and to help them build a stronger future. We have seven humanitarian bases across the country as well as a deployable team that can respond to other locations as needed. In addition, we are providing emergency support for many South Sudanese refugees who have fled to neighboring countries for safety.
The provision of clean water and sanitation services—including hygiene promotion—is one of the main activities on which we focus. We drill and repair wells, test and treat water, and train local groups to maintain their own water supplies. We dig latrines in camps and settlements, build hand-washing stations, and distribute hygiene kits. And through homes visits and public discussions, we promote knowledge of waterborne diseases and effective ways of preventing them.
We are working with others in the country, including the World Food Programme, to address the acute and chronic food shortages so many people face. Our goal is to ensure that the most vulnerable people have enough nutritious food while we work with them to improve their means of making a living. Our approach includes direct distributions of food to people, helping them buy livestock or produce their own food, supporting them in their efforts to establish small businesses, and providing them with training and tools.
To stop the spread of famine across South Sudan, Oxfam is calling on the transitional government to prioritize humanitarian access so aid can reach those in the greatest need. Warring parties must uphold the ceasefire and bring peace to their people so they can return home, plant and harvest their fields, and resume making a living for their families.
And we are urging that world leaders renew their commitment to the people of South Sudan by ensuring the humanitarian response is fully funded.
Learn more about our work in South Sudan and help Oxfam protect lives.