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Sudan Referendum Approaches, Highlighting Health, Development Challenges Facing The South

“Southern Sudan is scheduled to start voting on January 9 on whether to become an independent country or remain part of Sudan, Africa’s largest nation which has been wracked by decades of conflict,” CNN reports (Wilkinson, 1/5). On Tuesday during a visit to the southern capital of Juba, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir “said he would celebrate the results of the referendum even if the south chooses to secede, and pledged last week to help build a secure, stable and ‘brotherly’ southern state if it votes for independence,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Bashir’s remarks are “extremely encouraging” (Martelli, 1/5). Kerry, who arrived in Sudan on Tuesday, “will spend the entire week” in the country as it prepares for the referendum, Foreign Policy’s blog “The Cable” reports. “Sudan is at a pivotal moment,” Kerry said in a statement. “The United States played an important role in ending the civil war in Sudan and making the vote this Sunday possible. Our commitment to the Sudanese people will extend beyond the referendum, whatever its outcome, as we work to improve economic and humanitarian conditions in the region,” he said (Rogin, 1/4).

Reuters reports that the referendum is “a new test for U.S. diplomacy in the region, which analysts say could yet present President Barack Obama with his ‘Rwanda moment’ if violence explodes in its wake. U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic about the vote, which is expected to see southern Sudan opt to split off as an independent country in the last step of a 2005 peace deal that ended one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars.”

The news service continues: “Crucial issues including borders, citizenship, and division of Sudan’s oil revenues are yet to be decided, any of which could trigger bloodshed that some warn might potentially rival the 1994 genocide in Rwanda if it expands into full-blown war” (Quinn 1/5).

In light of the upcoming vote, PBS NewsHour looks at the health care challenges in South Sudan. “Clinics … are scattered throughout the country. But less than 30 percent of South Sudan’s population has access to health care services. And, like the hospitals, many clinics also lack resources. When we arrived at the health center, women were waiting to have their children vaccinated. The mud floor clinic has no running water, no toilets, no delivery routes, no doctor. Medications were running low, and the staff of 10 shared two stethoscopes,” special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye reports. “Outsiders, including the U.S. government, the U.N., evangelical groups, and aid organizations, pay for most of South Sudan’s health care,” he notes.

The piece includes interviews with Justin Bruno, a physician at Al Sabah Hospital; Katie Morris, a Catholic Relief Services program manager; Martha Martin of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly; and Rajibia Ahmad, a midwife at Lologo Clinic (Kaye, 1/3).

In related coverage, Al Jazeera looks at prospects for Southern Sudan’s development after the vote. “The past five years witnessed the failure of the south Sudanese government to really change living conditions, with half of the South’s population living on less than $1 per day. The same amount – more than four million – needed food aid in 2010,” the news service reports. An accompanying video includes a segment outlining the U.S. relationship with Sudan and how its ties might change after the referendum.

“Because of its actions in Darfur, and because Sudan is still said to be supporting international terrorism, the U.S. has put Sudan under sanctions, which is blocking many companies who are keen to capture the country’s oil and minerals,” Al Jazeera writes. “Nevertheless, some progress has been made in the fields of agriculture and mining. … There are also plans to grant oil concessions to Western companies to end the Chinese monopoly over oil production in the South” (1/4).

Meanwhile the International Rescue Committee on Wednesday said floods of people returning to their homes in Southern Sudan are putting a strain on local communities that do not have enough food, water, sanitation and health care, CNN reports. “Hundreds of thousands have returned to the region since a 2005 peace agreement that ended a civil war between Sudan’s north and south. In the past three months, about 106,000 have returned from the north, the International Rescue Committee said in a statement,” according to the news service.

“We have an unfolding humanitarian crisis, layered on top of an existing and forsaken one,” said Susan Purdin, the International Rescue Committee’s director in Southern Sudan. “And then there’s the potential for mass displacement, an upsurge in political and ethnic violence, and a larger-scale humanitarian emergency,” Purdin added. “Various aid agencies, including the United Nations, are putting up emergency plans to take care of the residents before and after the referendum, the International Rescue Committee said,” CNN writes (Karimi, 1/5).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.