afrol News, 7 February - As the upcoming independence of South Sudan has been confirmed, about 180,000 southerners have returned from the north of Sudan to build the new state from nothing. Aid workers assure they are given start-up help.
Today is the day as it has become official. The final results of the southern Sudan referendum confirmed that over 98 percent of voters opted for the creation of Africa's newest country. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir today again repeated he accepted the vote and South Sudan's secession, planned for June this year.
At the same time, a small human drama is evolving in South Sudan - a quite touching drama, but with the potentials of a humanitarian disaster. Over the past few months, an estimated 180,000 southerners have returned from the north of Sudan. Thousands more are still planning to come.
Many have returned home, full of excitement, to help build the new nation. After decades of war, South Sudan needs to be built almost from scratch, and there are enormous challenges.
But there are also others that are coming "because of fear and uncertainty about what will happen to southerners in the north after the south secedes," the UK charity Oxfam reports from South Sudan.
The charity is among the few working to receive the large streams of southerners returning home. Oxfam's emergency response team – with funding from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) – is providing clean water, building latrines and running health campaigns to stop diseases spreading.
"Many of the returnees have been living in very basic conditions, with no shelter, food or water for them on arrival," the charity reports from Leer in South Sudan. "The influx has placed enormous strain on local communities, who were already struggling to find enough food, water and other necessities."
The returnees have generally been welcomed back by the local community, but there is now huge pr
essure on limited resources in Leer county and concerns that new conflicts could emerge in the future, especially over water.
Marino Commandos, leading the Oxfam team in Leer, reports that the population in the country has almost doubled since the influx of the returnees. "Half of the boreholes are broken down. Hygiene practice is poor, sanitation is poor. That is why we came here to intervene, so that we can contain the spread of disease," he explains.
A priority for the team has been to repair broken boreholes. Communities have had to travel longer distances to get water, often collecting it from unsafe sources such as swamps, ponds and rivers.
The initiative is also appreciated by the local population. According to Elisabeth Nyathot, a local villager: "Before the borehole, we would take water from the river. We had many diseases."
The village environment is a challenge for many returnees, who have come from urban areas in the north. Rebecca Nyakong recently arrived from Khartoum with her children. "My three children were born in the north. They got water from taps not boreholes. Things are not as clean here. Maybe that is why the children have been sick," she notes of her new home.
In Leer, where the upcoming independence is being celebrated, the new situation is leading to unprecedented activity. Locals, returnees and charity workers are quickly building the new society, hoping both Leer and South Sudan will have a sustainable future.
Oxfam notes that now, at this juncture when independence is decided, is the key moment to help South Sudanese to build a viable state. The charity calls for donor governments to keep their aid pledges and for private donors to assist.
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