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Cementing a Fragile Peace

Sudan, June 9, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    A 19-year-old Dinka girl, Achichong, recently returned to her family's ancestral home in a village called Maker, near Abyei. Nineteen-year-old Achichong was born and raised in Khartoum to parents who'd fled southern Sudan in the mid-1980s. They'd recently returned, living in temporary accomodations established by Mercy Corps in a village called Maker, also the name of Achichong's infant son. "We came back to our homeland," she explained, "and I named him for this." Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    A wedding party winds it way through the center of Wunrok, a town in southern Sudan. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
  • 
  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    In Joljok, a small village near Agok, Sudan, a cow finds forage in a riverbed that provides nourishing grasses in dry season. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Most students in this computer literacy class, taught at Mercy Corps' resource center in Twic County, have never before used a computer. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

By any measure, Sudan is a country in crisis.

For three years running, Sudan has been No. 1 or No. 2 in Foreign Policy's rankings as the state most at risk of failure. Its position atop that list reflects both the fragile peace between north and south — who fought a 21-year civil war that ended in 2005 — and the ongoing crisis in Darfur, where 2.5 million have been displaced since rebels took up arms in 2003.

Mercy Corps is helping Sudan strengthen the fragile peace between north and south through an integrated and community-based approach in and around the areas considered most critical to lasting tranquility.

Soon, we hope to extend this approach to Darfur. For now, we continue to help sustain 170,000 Darfurians displaced from their homes — keeping camps clean, training health promoters, building and supplying schools, and providing skills training to women and other vulnerable people.

The quest for peace in Sudan isn't new. In fact, since gaining independence from Britain in 1956, Sudan has been embroiled in civil conflict for all but 11 years.

Persistent sources of conflict include unequal levels of community development; cultural and religious differences; and irregular distribution of resources, including oil revenues and grazing lands.

These friction points were partially addressed in early 2005, when the party in power, the National Congress Party, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). It ended Africa's longest civil conflict — fought for 21 years, primarily in the south and along what's now the border area between north and south — that killed two million people and forced more than four million from their homes.

The CPA is a landmark document; most agree it provides the framework for a strong and stable Sudan. It establishes semi-autonomy for southern Sudan, milestones for democratic reforms, revenue and power sharing, national elections, and ultimately, a referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan.

If it is successfully implemented, it also provides the framework to extend peace to Darfur. That's because the challenges addressed in the CPA — including national elections, transparent resource sharing and equitable development — respond to the concerns of people in Darfur as well as the south.

Mercy Corps works in Darfur, southern Sudan, and three border areas heavily affected by the war — and considered critical to lasting peace. Each of these three areas — Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile state and the Abyei area — was singled out for special treatment in the 2005 peace agreement. The work we do falls into one of three categories:

  • An ongoing response to humanitarian needs in Darfur;
  • Community recovery projects that demonstrate a tangible "peace dividend"while increase opportunities for livelihoods; and
  • Training and support for local civil-society groups, so that they can play an appropriate role in strengthening the peace and building a democratic Sudan

Our role in Abyei now includes providing relief to the estimated 60,000 people who fled south from Abyei town after fighting broke out in mid-May. We're helping reach displaced families with food, shelter, cookware and other items needed to survive while continuing to provide seeds and tools and agricultural expertise to ensure a strong harvest. And we're continuing programs that encourage the economic recovery of surrounding communities.

Our work throughout Sudan is based on the belief that communities in transition present the greatest opportunities to bring about positive, lasting change. Our goal is to support fair and lasting peace by supporting the implementation of the peace agreement and laying the groundwork for long-term development.