Unexploded ordnances are legacy of war for children in southern Sudan

Four years after a comprehensive peace agreement ended the most overt warfare between the North and the South of Sudan, there are still numerous unexploded ordnances (UXO) in many parts of the country. These days, all eyes are on Abyei with the border demarcation and the contested areas between the North and the South, but people in many more parts of southern Sudan are confronted with these results of the war. Years after the end of war, fighting still erupts frequently and adds to the problem. 

UXOs include ammunition, bombs, mines, grenades, rockets and other explosives which were fired but failed to detonate and have not yet been found. They are often buried in the soil, leaving people in the area vulnerable, especially children playing. 

Every year during the rainy season, the rains expose devices previously hidden in the soil that are washed up to the surface. This is the case in many areas where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs projects in southern Sudan. 

“Nobody knows where these ordnances appear and we expect to see more over the rainy season," said Dave Croft, project coordinator for the MSF hospital in Nasir town, in Upper Nile State, expressing his concerns. "Yesterday, at the air strip I saw a live rifle cartridge being washed to the surface by the rain, lying there accessible for every by-passer. Kids play here everywhere, they are curious and pick up things. There is an urgent need for an awareness campaign, especially for the children in Nasir.” 

The danger people face was exemplified on Tuesday, July 14, when an UXO seriously injured a little boy, 7, who lives in Nasir. On his way back from school he saw a shiny metal object protruding from the soil and tried to pick it up. As he pulled the object, it exploded, seriously injuring him. He was immediately brought to the MSF hospital, where a team provides surgical care along with basic health care and inpatient facilities. 

“When they heard an explosion, his family came rushing to the scene and immediately brought the little boy to our hospital, which is fortunately nearby," said MSF surgeon Jose Sanchez Giron. "His two hands were completely destroyed. I had to amputate his arms at the elbows. He had injuries on his face, his eyes, neck, chest and abdomen and also on one of his legs. Through the detonation, he also lost his eyesight." 

Giron operated on the little boy and although the child is stable now and in good care it is hard to imagine what future he faces in southern Sudan. 

“He lost both arms and he will be blind. It is heartbreaking," said Giron "His parents are so happy he survived, but at the same time so worried about his future. He is a strong boy, but what future does he have in a country where surviving under normal circumstances is already very difficult." 

Dave Croft added: “He is in a bad shape, but stable. Yesterday, he could speak and eventually he told us what he remembers about what happened to him on that day.” 

As a medical organisation, MSF can only offer care for the victims. But more assistance to clear these devices is crucial. In addition, more education about the daily threat needs to be offered to people in the affected areas, particularly to children. MSF calls on donors to step up their support for intensified demining efforts and for more risk education for children. 

MSF teams have been working in Sudan since 1978, providing emergency medical humanitarian assistance. In addition to frequent outbreaks of violence and attacks in the region, malnutrition is prevalent, maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in the world, tuberculosis and Kala azar infections are ongoing problems, and large-scale outbreaks of meningitis, measles, cholera, and malaria are common.