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Sudan and South Sudan: Two Years On

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On the 9 July, the international community will recognise the second anniversary of the world's newest nation, following South Sudan's secession from Sudan in 2011.

Last month, we - as members of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan - took part in a debate in the House of Commons Chamber on the UK's role in supporting peace and development in the two countries. We sought the debate not only in recognition of this anniversary but also because 2013 marks ten years of the brutal conflict in Darfur, which still shows no sign of ending.

A previous Commons debate on Sudan took place in spring 2011 as the world counted down to South Sudan's independence. At that time, there was much hope and optimism expressed in that debate, with many believing independence would mean a new beginning for both Sudan and South Sudan. However, this year's debate was entirely different. Responding to the grim situation on the ground, MPs from all parties passionately voiced concerns over the trajectory of events throughout the past two years in both countries.

Even after secession, an acute lack of trust remains between the two countries as each accuses the other of supporting rebels in their territory. The result is that negotiations over critical issues have been painfully slow. Whilst multiple agreements have been signed between Sudan and South Sudan, most notably in September 2012 on trade, oil sharing and the establishment of a safe demilitarised border zone, tensions have remained high and implementation shaky. In particular, the situation in the disputed Abyei region remains unresolved, recently threatening to spill into conflict following the assassination of a local tribal leader.

The inability to work together effectively has cost Sudan and South Sudan dear. The 15-month oil blockade imposed by South Sudan in January 2012 brought both economies to their knees. Whilst the rest of sub-Saharan Africa saw annual GDP grow between 5 and 6% in 2012, GDP fell by a shocking 55% in South Sudan and nearly 1% in Sudan. In March 2013 oil sharing between the two countries finally resumed, but this hangs in the balance once more with Sudan threatening to impose its own blockage following accusations that its neighbour is providing support to SPLM-N rebels in southern Sudan.

But the greatest concerns repeatedly voiced in Parliament were for the civilians and vulnerable populations, mainly women and children, who are the ones most affected by the devastating conflicts and humanitarian crises that plague both countries. In Sudan, the decade-long conflict in Darfur has claimed the lives of 300,000 and caused three million to be displaced continues. 3.5 million people remain dependent on food aid - half of Darfur's entire population - yet the Government of Sudan continues to limit access for aid organisations in this region. Parliamentarians have also heard chilling reports of the plight of civilians in Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile states who have been caught between the SPLM-N rebels and Government forces for over two years now, enduring daily aerial bombardment and a severe humanitarian crisis that has left many eating poisonous roots to stave off hunger. 150,000 refugees from this conflict have fled to South Sudan, where the situation in the camps remains of great concern.

In South Sudan, there are growing fears over increasing inter-tribal tensions. South Sudan's former rebel army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was divided on tribal lines between 1991 and 2002. During this period, southerners fought among themselves in some of the most destructive battles of the civil war. Today, these splits threaten to re-emerge - seven of the country's ten states display features of conflict and the depredations that come with it. In particular, the conflict in Jonglei has worsened over the past months since March, displacing tens of thousands of people according to the UN. Denial of access has meant that it has been difficult to monitor the extent of the impact on the civilian population, but there are grave fears that a growing humanitarian crisis is looming.

Toby Lanzer, UN Resident Development Humanitarian Coordinator, has rightly pointed out that the biggest humanitarian challenge for South Sudan will be development - that the humanitarian needs of the millions in need of assistance will only be addressed in the long term if the underlying causes that undermine sustainable livelihoods are addressed in parallel with emergency response. Good governance will be key to addressing South Sudan's substantial lack of development, yet widespread corruption abounds, and the SPLM-led government has struggled with the challenge of building a state from scratch.

Yet we still remain hopeful for the futures of both countries. Finding peaceful solutions will require persistence, and the reality of the situation is that hope is incremental. When we meet with members of Sudanese and South Sudanese civil society, and with young diaspora in the UK, we are reminded that it is not just political processes, but also the determined spirit of citizens who do not want to see any more war that will power the hope of two nations.

In the debate this year MPs repeatedly emphasized the need for long-term engagement from the international community - both diplomatically and as donors - and the need for a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of conflict. We echo Baroness Valerie Amos's concerns over donor fatigue following her recent visit to Sudan as UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian affairs and Emergency Relief. And, as the mandates for the UN operations in Darfur and South Sudan approach their expiry date in July, as well as the AU High Level Implementation Panel led by Thabo Mbeki, which has been instrumental in assisting negotiations between the two countries, we urge the international community to renew its commitment to peace and development for Sudan and South Sudan. The piecemeal solutions of the past have failed and we need international leaders to be bold in unlocking the governance reform that is desperately needed if conflict within and between these countries is to ever end.

The fates of Sudan and South Sudan are inextricably intertwined, and have implications for the whole region. We must not allow these issues to fall off the radar.

William Bain, Labour MP for Glasgow North East, Chair of the APG for Sudan and South Sudan

Mark Durkan, SDLP MP for Foyle, Member of the APG for Sudan and South Sudan

Stephen Mosley MP, Conservative MP for the City of Chester, Member of the APG for Sudan and South Sudan