Release Date

May 27, 2011

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Catholic Relief Services Statement on Abyei, Sudan

A wave of violence broke out on May 19th and has continued over the past several days along the 4,000 square-mile region of Abyei between north Sudan and soon to be formed Republic of South Sudan. Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Abyei was slated to undergo its own referendum vote in early January to decide whether or not to form part of the soon to be independent Republic of South Sudan. Because the north and the south could not decide who had a right to vote in the elections the vote was postponed and no new date has been set.

The region has been plagued by violence over the past several years including recent conflict that lead more than 100 dead and displaced an estimated 20,000 last March. Church partners and UN officials report burning and looting and the city of Abyei has been emptied of its residents.

At the time of the attacks Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was in Abyei supervising the distribution of food and essential household items to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the March conflict. CRS was also planning a tools and seeds fair to support the local economy and help farmers get much-needed crops into the ground in advance of the rains. All operations were suspended due to insecurity. In March CRS provided more than 2,300 people with food, shelter and household items.

CRS is uniquely prepared to respond to the current emergency in Abyei as 30 youth leaders from the Agok and Abyei parishes were trained in emergency response in December 2010, as part of a Caritas Internationalis-supported program to strengthen the emergency preparedness and rapid response capacities of the local church. The youth leaders identified possible emergency flashpoints, mapped resources, selected possible areas to house IDPs and identified vulnerable people who might need additional assistance should a crisis arise. CRS will be working with these local leaders to meet the needs of the displaced.

This latest surge in violence has closed crucial routes connecting northern traders with southern markets in the Abyei and Agok areas for the past three weeks. The available food is quickly diminishing. With no operating market system it is imperative that aid agencies work to get much needed food, water, and supplies to the affected population. This situation will be further compounded if the conflict continues and normal market operations are not allowed to resume.

The start of the rainy season seriously affects the living conditions for the displaced. Basic shelter such as plastic sheeting is an immediate need in order to help stave off disease and protect the displaced from the elements. Other household items such as blankets and cooking utensils will also be in great demand.

"Peacebuilding in the aftermath of any conflict will be imperative, " says Luc Picard, CRS Church Partner Development Adviser, in southern Sudan, "The demand on basic services placed on the region by host communities, returnees and the displaced and the subsequent struggle for survival in the face of limited resources could easily create a series of conflicts within the community." Church and Tribal leaders must be involved to create an environment where displaced people will have space and access to resources. It is imperative that all responding agencies account for this and incorporate peacebuilding into their response.