Today’s the day it becomes official. The final results of the southern Sudan referendum are expected to confirm the creation of Africa’s newest country.
Over the past few months, about 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, southern Sudan needs to be built almost from scratch, and there are enormous challenges.
Others are coming because of fear and uncertainty about what will happen to southerners in the north after the south secedes.
Many of the returnees have been living in very basic conditions, with no shelter, food or water for them on arrival. The influx has placed enormous strain on local communities, who were already struggling to find enough food, water and other necessities.
Oxfam’s emergency response team – with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, ECHO – has been providing clean water, building latrines and running health campaigns to stop diseases spreading.
These new arrivals have spent their first night sleeping out in the open air – they’re among more than 13,000 people from the north who have arrived in Leer County in the past few months. Roughly double that figure plan to return soon.
The returnees have been welcomed back by the local community, but there is now huge pressure on limited resources in the county and concerns that new conflicts could emerge in the future, especially over water.
Marino Commandos leads Oxfam’s emergency response team in Leer: “With the support of ECHO, we’re able to come here in Leer. We’ve found a huge population of returnees came from the north, and the population here in Leer is almost double. Half of the boreholes are broken down. Hygiene practice is poor, sanitation is poor. That’s why we came here to intervene, so that we can contain the spread of disease.”
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 Oxfam team has been holding hygiene promotion sessions across the county. Communities have been taught the basics, including the need to keep water points clean to prevent contamination.
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 (the northern capital city) with her children:
“My three children were born in the north. They got water from taps not boreholes. Things aren’t as clean here. Maybe that’s why the children have been sick.”
The hygiene training is practical and hands-on. The Oxfam team explains that while the water sources are clean, the dirty buckets can spread disease and poor handling of water can cause sickness.
Oxfam’s work in Leer is a partnership with the community. Where the team has repaired boreholes, villagers have built new fencing to prevent animals dirtying the water points. And the hygiene work is set to continue long after the team leaves. Volunteer community water committees have been formed and trained.
Mary Nyakuok heads one of the committees: “We’ve learnt to keep the borehole clean, and we’ll keep up this work.”
Villagers like Mary are determined to continue to practice what they’ve learnt, and to keep their communities safe from sickness in the future.
Oxfam’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Team, and the aid for returnees in Leer, is funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO)