Tensions rise in Sudan ahead of vote

AID agencies in southern Sudan said the humanitarian situation was worsening as tensions built over the region’s bid for independence from the north, Sky News reported today.

Tens of thousands of refugees who fled decades of civil war recently returned to the impoverished south to take part in the January 9 referendum on splitting the country.

The mass influx added to the hundreds of thousands who already depend on food aid to survive. Around 90 percent of the nine million who live in southern Sudan live on little more than $1 a day, making it one of the poorest regions in the world.

Limited access to health care brings the highest rate of maternal mortality on earth. For those who survive childbirth, the struggle quickly becomes keeping their children alive. One in six in southern Sudan dies before his or her first birthday.

Malaria is one of the biggest killers here, along with diarrhea and chest infections. Almost a third of the region’s children are malnourished.

“It is difficult for us because even if malnourished children recover here, they then return to the same homes where they go hungry again,” the hospital’s director, Dr. Francis Modi Towe, said.

There are huge expectations that the vote – which is almost certain to be in favor of independence from the Sudanese capital Khartoum after generations of neglect by the government – will mark the start of a transformation here, with the world ready to pour in aid.

But others fear that, after five years of peace, the vote could trigger a new conflict with the north. The consequences of that for the people of southern Sudan, already living on the brink, would be devastating.

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