SUDAN: WHO warns of epidemics in conflict areas of south

NAIROBI, 8 September 2009 (IRIN) – Conflict-affected areas of Southern Sudan, such as Ezo County in Western Equatoria State where Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have been active, are facing a high risk of epidemics, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns.

Conflict in Southern Sudan, WHO said, had damaged health facilities, displaced health workers and prevented people from accessing facilities that were still functioning.

LRA rebels have continued attacks in Western Equatoria, looting and ransacking homes, churches and health facilities, stealing food, killing innocent civilians and abducting children.

In recent weeks, the rebels have forced 80,000 people out of their homes. On 13 August, they looted and burnt local houses and churches in Ezo, ransacked health facilities, killed and wounded civilians and abducted 10 girls.

"The total number of people displaced following the recent attacks in Ezo is unclear," WHO said. "Many IDPs [internally displaced persons] are still hiding in the jungle due to persistent fear of LRA attacks, while most displaced are now living in camps organized by local authorities or host communities."

Humanitarian workers were evacuated following the attacks. "The humanitarian situation remains serious," the agency said. "Local churches have asked for emergency supplies of food, safe drinking water and medicines.

"The severe shortage of food may lead to malnutrition in children and pregnant women. Many healthcare workers were among the displaced, and very few health facilities are operational… National Immunization Days scheduled to take place in August were not conducted due to the insecurity."

Spreading panic

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the LRA has triggered widespread panic and fear in areas along the borders of Southern Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR).

"There are some 3,500 refugees from the DRC and CAR and an estimated 25,000 IDPs in Ezo and neighbouring districts," it said on 21 August. "These people are now without protection or assistance."

Altogether, an estimated 360,000 Congolese have been uprooted in successive LRA attacks in Orientale province of northeastern DRC while 20,000 have fled to neighbouring Sudan and the CAR.

During a recent visit to Dungu in northeastern DRC, Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), referred to the “Christmas Massacre” of 26 December, when the LRA attacked a Catholic church, hacking to death innocent worshippers.

"The population of Dungu live in constant fear of attacks from the LRA, who inflicted 20 years of terror in Uganda and other neighbouring countries," she said. "The LRA is notorious for kidnapping children, forcing them to kill and maim innocent victims and enslaving young girls as their concubines."

An estimated 320,000 people have been displaced from their homes since December 2007. In July, the rebels were believed to have been responsible for approximately 1,200 civilian deaths.

"The people are stuck between a rock and a hard place," Katharine Derderian, a humanitarian adviser for the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Belgium, said recently. "They are too scared to return to the rural areas, so they are unable to cultivate their fields, or to even send their children to school because they fear the LRA will attack."


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