Mia Farrow and Martin Bell have wrapped up an eight day UNICEF visit to Southern Sudan, where they witnessed firsthand the devastating impact on the lives of women and children from attacks by the rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), in Western Equatoria and the fighting in Abyei.
Mia and Martin were in Southern Sudan just two months after a historic referendum, which called for the creation of a new nation in Southern Sudan. The referendum was part of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end the two decade long war between the North and the South, which has claimed over 2 million lives.
"We have come here at what should be such a hopeful time for everyone in Southern Sudan," said Ms.Farrow. “But the lives of children along the border areas continue to be torn apart by violence – at times with unimaginable brutality. The women and children I spoke to were living in terror – afraid to go to their fields for food, afraid to go to school or even remain in their homes. They told me that what they want and need most is safety and protection.”
Families are still recovering from decades of war, which has crippled the infrastructure, leaving thousands of children without access to schools, basic health care, and clean water. In Southern Sudan, one out of every 7 children dies before their fifth birthday. Only about 10% of children are fully vaccinated, and less than 50% of all children receive 5 years of primary education.
The LRA is a Ugandan rebel group operating from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which continues to abduct children, rape, loot and burn villages mainly in bordering Southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria.
In Western Equatoria State, the two visited a transit centre for children rescued from the LRA and interacted with affected communities. They also visited a UNICEF supported health centre, which now has an innovative motor bike ambulance to ensure that women in labour can get to a health clinic in time. Southern Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. One in 6 women in Southern Sudan dies from pregnancy related causes.
"In all my ten years with UNICEF I have never found its work more necessary than in Southern Sudan, or seen it saving lives in such difficult and demanding circumstances. Southern Sudan is in a time of transition, with great opportunities and great dangers ahead" Mr. Bell said. “The new country’s future lies in its children and UNICEF is concentrating its efforts on changing their lives for the better” he added.
In Abyei, Farrow and Bell saw empty villages abandoned by families fleeing recent clashes, or fearing further attacks.
Some of those displaced by the tension in Abyei had recently returned from Northern Sudan where they had lived in displacement for more than a decade due to the North-South civil war that raged from 1983 to 2005.
Hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese streamed back from the north ahead of the 9 January referendum in which Southerners overwhelmingly voted for secession and are due to form an independent country July 9.
UNICEF believes that sustainable peace is the only viable path for improved quality of life, increased prosperity, growth and development for the people of Southern Sudan in line with the aspirations of the people themselves.
Mia Farrow, an internationally known actress and humanitarian, is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador with a special focus on children impacted by conflict. Martin Bell, a former BBC war correspondent, is a UNICEF UK Ambassador with a special focus on humanitarian emergencies.
This was Farrow’s third trip to Southern Sudan. “The people of Southern Sudan have displayed extraordinary courage and resilience in the long years of violence,” said Farrow. “At this critical time they need and deserve help.”