Sudanese Churches Respond to Humanitarian Crisis in Border Region
As politicians wrangle ahead of a December deadline over the still-disputed status of the oil-rich Abyei region, straddling the border of Sudan and South Sudan, local church leaders are appealing for help in the face of a potential humanitarian crisis.
Both governments have been asked to approve an African Union proposal to resolve the status of the Abyei region. Sudan is stalling, and while arguments over nationality drag on, thousands of people face near-starvation in villages devastated by the conflict–particularly since May 2011 when a combination of northern militias, led by tanks and 5,000 Sudanese Army troops, destroyed roughly 90 percent of Abyei town.
Now a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding as 20,000 people displaced by fighting start to return to desolate villages, where even water boreholes have been badly damaged, following the withdrawal of Sudanese government troops in June 2012.
But Abyei is still a "no-go" area for most aid agencies, due to tight restrictions imposed by Khartoum as well as security concerns. So with their own church premises and compounds also almost completely destroyed, church leaders have formed an Inter-Church Committee (ICC) representing Roman Catholic, Episcopal Church of Sudan, and Pentecostal congregations to coordinate relief.
The ICC says local churches have been one of the few organizations to offer consistent support since 2011, opening up their homes, building and compounds. ICC Chairman Father Biyong says: "[Residents] lost all their worldly belongings in the carnage that took place there. Due to the nature of the conflict, they were targeted because of their ethnic identity and religious affiliation."
The churches are keen to preserve a strong Christian witness in an area so close to Sudan, where President al-Bashir has promised to extend shari'ah law. The aid delivery included Bibles and three motorbikes to enable church staff to travel between Agok and Abyei.
For now, the churches' efforts are focused on meeting urgent humanitarian needs, says ICC, but their witness is strong. Pastor Santino of the Episcopal Church of Sudan reports: "The church has grown in Agok, with more coming to faith as they realise God is the only one they can rely on."