What’s the difference between Sudan and South Sudan?

By Oxfam

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

Hot and dusty, Sudan is just under one-fifth the size of the US. On Sudan’s western border, next to Chad, 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.

At the start of 2014, more than one million people were still living in displacement camps when a new surge in violence hit the region, forcing hundreds of thousands of Darfuris to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere—even in places where they lack access to food, water, and basic sanitation facilities.

Conflict has also broken out in the Sudan states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The fighting that erupted there in 2011 between rebel forces and the government has left many families in need of humanitarian assistance and new clashes have forced about 6,700 people from their homes.

What Oxfam is doing in Sudan

A family displaced by the surge of violence in Darfur that began in February 2014 collects clean drinking water at an Oxfam tap stand in Kalma camp. Photo: Sahar Ali / Oxfam America

Oxfam's emergency response in Sudan scaled up in late 2003 in Darfur when the crisis first erupted. Together with our partners, in 2014 we launched a three-month program to help people affected by the latest wave of violence in Darfur. Oxfam aims to provide 90,000 of them with some of the basics they need—clean water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene materials as well as plastic sheeting and other relief supplies.

“I was able to speak to some women at the camp. They are just living under a shelter made of fabric and held up with a few sticks,” said Oxfam humanitarian coordinator Sahar Ali who recently traveled to Darfur. “They almost have no food to eat. The story that they were telling me about how they are fled their homes with only the clothes on their back are very painful. They don’t know how the future will look. We’ll do what we can to help them.”

In South Kordofan, one of Oxfam’s partners has been able to reach about 70,000 people with a variety of support, including rehabilitating wells and constructing latrines. For some of the families most recently displaced in the town of Rashad, Oxfam partner SOS-Sahel is trucking in water and providing other essentials.

Learn more about Oxfam’s support for displaced people in Darfur and South Kardofan and help us provide aid to families in need.

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Conflict in South Sudan

In the three years since this landlocked nation of about 12 million people gained independence, South Sudan has been struggling with widespread poverty left in the wake of civil war. Though the country, which is almost the size of Texas, has abundant oil reserves, most people make their living as subsistence farmers and herders.

While South Sudan’s citizens welcomed their independence with ebullience, political tensions soon began to simmer among their leaders—erupting in violence in December 2013 when heavy gunfire broke out in Juba, the capital. The fighting triggered a new round of massive displacement that now includes more than one million people. Many of them—more than 254,000—have fled to neighboring countries, including Ethiopia and Uganda.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared the attack an attempted coup, and blamed forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, who was dismissed a few months before. Though opposition and government forces agreed to a ceasefire in late January, clashes have continued. And in early April, the UN began warning that a humanitarian catastrophe could be looming.

“We have got 3.7 million people who are already at severe risk of starvation. And, we are in the month of April and May supposed to be celebrating the planting season," Toby Lanzer, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, told Voice of America. "This is when it starts to rain and when people cultivate their fields. They tend to their cattle, their sheep and their goats. But, they cannot because it is unsafe. They cannot move to their fields with the sort of freedom that is required.”

What Oxfam is doing in South Sudan

Sisters Nyach and Nya wash clothes while they wait to fill their jerry cans with clean, safe water pumped from nearby tanks. Mackenzie Knowles Coursin / Oxfam

Oxfam has been working in the region for more than 30 years—since 1983. In that time, we have helped more than half a million people with both longer-term development initiatives and with emergency needs following floods, drought, and conflict.

In response to the current crisis, Oxfam has helped more than 130,000 people in six conflict-affected areas by providing families with water and sanitation services, emergency food, and other support such as vouchers for charcoal, fuel-efficient stoves, and cash distributions.

In Uganda, Oxfam has been helping more than 36,000 South Sudanese refugees and members of their host communities. We have been providing clean water for drinking and household needs and working to improve sanitation facilities and promote good hygiene to prevent the outbreak of waterborne diseases.

We are also distributing energy efficient stoves and engaging refugees and their hosts in cash-for-work programs so they can earn some income to meet their basic needs. Some of the work involves clearing access roads and digging waste pits.

Learn more about our work in South Sudan and help Oxfam protect lives.

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