Parishes across Sudan are praying for peace while preparing for upheaval that many fear is only months away.
A referendum vote in early January will decide whether southern Sudan will be declared an independent nation. The decision on whether or not to divide Africa’s largest country is charged with emotion. The outcome will usher in a new era for Sudan, one that has the potential to bring a lasting peace, or a return to the decades of warfare that plagued the region.
In response, CRS is working closely with church partners in Sudan to encourage peace dialogues among tribes and recently launched a world-wide campaign to promote peace in Sudan. Speaking to Catholics across the world, the campaign raises awareness of the reality facing Sudan today and encourages people of all faiths to support CRS efforts to build peace in Sudan.
While CRS is optimistic that Sudan’s future is a peaceful one, we are also working with the Sudanese Catholic dioceses and other Caritas International agencies to prepare for the worst. While the approaching referendum is what propelled Caritas and the Church to begin thinking about emergency preparedness, the process does not focus solely on conflict-related disasters. In fact, once emergency preparedness plans are completed, the communities within the 10 Catholic dioceses and pastoral regions of Sudan will be better prepared to provide effective humanitarian assistance should any type of emergency, man-made or natural, occur.
One of our main disaster responses is to join with local leaders to determine what resources are available in a given community. The Archdiocese of Juba was chosen as the pilot diocese to begin the emergency preparedness planning process.
Recently, more than 30 parish members and parish youth leaders participated in an emergency preparedness workshop. The workshop participants worked in small groups and used their knowledge and experience to identify the specific risks facing their communities, such as floods and inter-tribal violence, and to think about how each of the different threats might affect their communities. For example, in the case of floods, people would likely be displaced from their homes and might seek shelter in the church compound. The displaced families would need food, plastic sheeting to construct temporary shelters, and other relief items to permit them to live in dignity. So the next question posed to the groups was, “how is our parish prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to people who flee from an emergency to our church compound?”
Workshop participants drew maps of their parishes, marking key spots that could be used during an emergency response. At the end of the exercise each of the 10 parishes had drawn a map indicating all of the important resources in their parish, such as schools, churches, clinics, water sources, and warehouses. The Archdiocese can use the maps for their emergency preparedness plan.
Each parish is now committed to:
– mobilizing community volunteers to serve on the parish emergency tesponse team
– preparing a list of vulnerable families (such as female-headed households, the elderly, and people suffering from illnesses) in the parish
– teaching members of the community about the importance of emergency preparedness
– identifying potential locations for makeshift camps for people who have fled their homes
The final step in the emergency preparedness process is training parish volunteers on emergency response activities, such as how to identify and register the people who will receive relief items, how to organize a warehouse to store relief items, and how to organize distributions of food and other goods such as blankets and soap.
The emergency response training will take place at the end of October in Juba, and CRS expects all the parishes to once again participate, bringing their wealth of knowledge and experience to ensure that the 5-day workshop is a success.
Renee Lambert is a CRS emergency program manager based in Sudan
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