Southern Sudan referendum - photo story

01/07/2011 03:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week southern Sudan votes in an historic referendum, to decide whether to remain part of a united Sudan or secede and become the world's newest country.

Whatever the outcome, after decades of war, southern Sudan is one of the least developed regions on earth and will need long-term support.

Tens of thousands of southerners living in northern Sudan have been returning to the south in the months ahead of the referendum. Martha Nyajak and her family lived in the north for six years and have just returned to Unity State.

"We arrived last night. Tonight will be our second night sleeping outside and it's been very cold. This is my country. I hope in the future to be able to send my children to school... they've never been to school." Oxfam is helping to provide new arrivals - and the villages where they are staying - with water and shelter.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

The influx of returnees is placing great strain on extremely poor communities, where people already struggle to get enough food and water. Over half of the people in southern Sudan still do not have access to a safe water source - many rely on dirty streams or stagnant pools. Oxfam engineers help repair boreholes and pumps to provide communities with a regular supply of clean flowing water.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

People have high hopes and expectations for development after the referendum. Rebecca Nyajung and her family also recently returned to southern Sudan after 21 years living in the north. "I'm hoping when the south gets independence we can expect to have good clinics, water, and can live well...I'm hoping we can have a better future." But with so much to do, southern Sudan will need a lot of help to meet these expectations.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

Over 200,000 people across southern Sudan fled their homes last year to escape deadly localised conflicts - often sparked by competition over scarce resources such as land, water and cattle, and fuelled by legacies of war such as an abundance of small arms. Here in Lakes State, Oxfam advisers speak at a peacebuilding and conflict resolution workshop, which aims to ensure that disputes are resolved peacefully within the communities.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

Only one in fifteen people in southern Sudan have access to latrines and adequate sanitation. As a result, water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea can easily spread. Oxfam health workers organise regular community meetings to explain basic steps that can help reduce the risk of illness.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

Regularly cleaning jerry cans - which are used to carry the family's water - is one way of reducing illness. Women in Unity State help organise the community for frequent cleaning sessions. Oxfam distributes jerry cans in villages - a precious asset when many women and children have to walk miles every day just to get a few litres of water.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

Southern Sudan has considerable agricultural potential, but a lack of infrastructure - such as roads and storage facilities - and ongoing insecurity has limited production. Many of the fruits and vegetables in the markets of the capital, Juba, are even imported from Kenya and Uganda. Oxfam is supporting small-scale farmers and women's groups by providing a variety of seeds, tools and equipment.
Photo: Alun McDonald

Vast cattle camps like this one are common in Lakes State, and are often home to thousands of animals. Oxfam has trained animal health workers to ensure that cows and goats are properly vaccinated against disease, and can be treated if they get sick. The animals can provide an income for the family and milk for the children. Oxfam's livelihoods team has also distributed goats and poultry to help support poor families.
Photo: Caroline Gluck

Many children spend their days looking after cattle in the camps, or fetching water. Few children in southern Sudan have the opportunity to go to school - less than half manage to complete basic schooling. Only a quarter of girls ever get to attend school at all. The war disrupted the education of an entire generation - around 80 percent of the population is illiterate. Today there are more schools but many are basic and overcrowded.
Photo: Alun McDonald

Read Oxfam Brief "Beyond's South Sudan Big Day" HERE