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South Sudan: aid reaches thousands displaced in Abyei area

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, April 5, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has just completed a distribution of seed and agricultural tools around Agok, a town in the southern part of the disputed Abyei area, to approximately 15,000 people who were displaced by fighting in May 2011. The host communities are also being provided with the aid, which should ensure adequate harvests in August this year.

Since clashes broke out last year in Abyei, a border area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, thousands of families have been forced to flee, abandoning their homes and belongings. Many ended up in remote villages around Agok town, where they were taken in by the local communities. Most have yet to return home.

"The families left everything behind when they fled last year, including their crops, which had been their main source of livelihood," said Katia De Keukeleire, the head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Wau. "Their arrival has placed a burden on host communities whose food resources were already limited. With the rains approaching, it will soon become very difficult to reach this area. The aid we distributed, which comes in advance of the planting season, restores a level of self-sufficiency to these families who can now produce food to eat or to sell. They cannot afford to lose another harvest."

The distribution of aid to families with some access to land took place from 12 March to 4 April. Each family received staples such as sesame, groundnuts and sorghum seed, tools for tilling and some food as seed protection.

Ms De Keukeleire added that some families fear returning to their homes and land because of the presence of landmines.

Mawien Malith is the deputy chief of Abatok village near Agok, one of the villages in which the ICRC is providing aid. Abatok saw its population double with the influx of displaced people. "Families fled Abyei town with nothing, leaving their crops behind. Villagers here took people in as best they could and shared what little they had with them. This distribution helps us to help ourselves. We can now plant when the rains arrive and the tools will serve us for years to come."

The host communities have also been affected by clashes. Many people fled south from their isolated villages in the Abyei area, making it impossible to sow in time for planting season. Scant supplies have made it extremely difficult for them to return home. Many people have to rely on fishing to survive. The influx of displaced people has put further pressure on food supplies.