During a trip to the Aweil East region in South Sudan in Janaury 2007, CASS officials discovered 100,000 Darfur citizens who had fled the region to escape the conflict. But rather than fleeing west to Chad, they had come out into the area where CASS operates. They had nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
Temporary grass shelters had been erected by local communities to house the influx of refugees, with each being a few feet apart from the other. So many were now camped in these areas that the host communities were quickly saturated and short of the necessities of life.
Taking Action to Help
All this left the team with the clear desire to assist in anyway they could. Immediately, the decision was made to purchase goats and other supplies that might assist some of the at-risk families. Clearly, something more long-term was required and as the team deliberated a plan began to emerge. Working in partnership with the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), it was determined to seek emergency funds from the Government of Canada based on a budget submitted by the IOM. A press conference was subsequently held in Parliament, and a consensus emerged with the support of the three opposition parties.
Following is an excerpt from the report released at the press conference.
This is an emerging new front emanating from eastern Darfur – one that has been little documented and received no attention from the media. Assessments have already been completed and it’s clear what is required.
- The drilling of bore holes for water (the UN has maintained that 20,000 such bore holes are required in South Sudan but to date only 1200 have been drilled).
- Improve sanitation conditions in host communities to avert disease.
- Make small and medium infrastructure investments to buttress host communities to deal with the emerging needs. These include construction of schools, generators for power, medical treatments and construction of temporary shelters.
- Trucks are provided for transportation of at-risk individuals and families to return them to their home communities.
- Emergency kits are provided which include mosquito nets, basic medicines, utensils for cooking and drinkable water.
- Transportation kits are provided, which include tents, shoes, clothing and small amounts of food. All these provisions have unfortunately fallen short, leaving the IOM looking for funding partners to assist in expanding their services.
New Hope from Canada
We were surprised in 2008 when we were informed by IOM officials that they had been in dialogue with the Canadian government for the past year and that a total of $3 million would be granted to the Darfur refugees by the end of March 08. This money was needed not only to keep people alive but also to provide them future tools for development, such as a primary school, rudimentary health care, water and farming implements. It also helped to relieve the mounting pressure placed upon the existing community who were unprepared for such an influx of people.
In 2009 CASS representatives witnessed the effects of those funds and it was remarkable. In 11 refugee villages, the IOM had built schools, women’s centres for democracy and education, and micro-enterprise businesses for the women in the local markets. Everywhere we journeyed, these communities wanted to express thanks to Canada, often waiting for days for our arrival.
The IOM had done its research and building well, constructing in-ground water systems through pipes running under the villages. (All the trenches were dug by the villagers themselves.) Deep wells had been dug and the water was pumped up into water towers by the use of solar panels.
Throughout the villages, people could frequent any of the watering stations and just turn on a tap to receive clean drinking water – a remarkable thing to behold.
Walking up to the tower in Manjankar, a village of 3,500 resettled refugees from Darfur, several London team members climbed the ladder to the top and surveyed the entire village. The changes were indeed gratifying. Satisfied with all that the Canadian money had provided, the villagers had opted to stay where they were instead of overrunning other traditional villages nearby. In one significant dispersal of Canadian money, the region had been stabilized and growth had begun.
We visited other such villages close to the border of Darfur and found similar advancements. Through what seemed like endless meetings with local officials, we learned the entire region had survived the previous difficult months because of the generosity of Canadians.
It was a remarkable success story lived out in one of the most remote regions of the planet, brought about by the wonderful generosity of Canadians and the resolve and tenacity of the Sudanese themselves. With 11 villages altogether, the Canadian funds had not only transformed the area, but also alleviated mounting pressure on the region’s resources. Now our challenge is to make sure these essentials remain maintained for years to come.
Since the independence of South Sudan, the flow of refugees and migrants continues as people from the north look to return to their traditional homes in the south. CASS continues to raise funds for these refugees settling in safer regions of South Sudan, like the Awiel East area. It is now possible to build schools, provide medicine, construct shelters and provide clean water. These efforts help to create stable new communities without disrupting the traditional villages of the area. If you would like to support the work of CASS with refugees, please follow the link to how to help.