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UNHCR welcomes South Sudan grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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UNHCR welcomes South Sudan grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

1 December 2006

Geneva, Friday 1 December 2006

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has received a $10 million emergency relief grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a variety of health, education, water and sanitation projects aimed at supporting the return and reintegration of hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people to devastated Southern Sudan.

"We are extremely pleased that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is our partner in ensuring that Sudanese making the brave choice to go home after more than two decades of conflict have a real chance to begin rebuilding their lives," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "While the 2005 peace agreement has paved the way for the possible repatriation of hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people, South Sudan is in ruins and the lack of infrastructure poses an enormous threat to the sustainability of those returns. This grant is crucial to their successful reintegration."

The funds from the Seattle-based foundation will cover immediate needs over a 28-month period in three main sectors - basic health care, education, and water and sanitation - in Western, Central and Eastern Equatoria states as well as the Upper Nile. A series of community-based reintegration projects focusing on each sector will benefit 210,000 Sudanese refugees coming home from neighbouring countries, as well as some 200,000 internally displaced people going back to their home villages. UNHCR will work with its UN and NGO partners as well as local communities in implementing the projects.

"These projects will involve the returnees and their communities and will help them bridge the difficult gap between repatriation, reconstruction and long-term development," Guterres said. "Equipping these communities early on with basic essentials such as clean water and sanitation, schools and health care helps ensure that those who are going home can stay home."

In the basic health care sector, the grant will fund the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 60 primary health facilities. It will also ensure they are stocked with medical equipment and supplies; provide training for 200 medical staff; and educate 1,000 police, immigration and military personnel, agency workers and community leaders in the prevention of HIV-AIDS and sexual and gender-based violence. Southern Sudan's health infrastructure is in ruins, with extremely high under-five and maternal mortality rates, particularly due to malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

Projects in the water and sanitation sector will focus on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of 65 bore holes and shallow wells as well as the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities in a series of way stations used by returning refugees and displaced people throughout Southern Sudan. Information campaigns will also be organised for returnees and communities in personal, domestic and community hygiene.

In the education sector, 18 schools will be rehabilitated or constructed in main communities of return and training provided to 600 teachers, with an emphasis on ensuring girls have equal educational opportunities and access. Non-formal education and vocational training will be provided to at-risk adolescent girls and boys to help them reach self-sufficiency.

Grant funds will also be used to provide safe transportation for refugees returning from neighbouring countries to South Sudan, as well as for vulnerable populations with special needs. Since December 2005, UNHCR has helped over 17,000 south Sudanese refugees return from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, but another 350,000 remain outside their homeland. An estimated 4 million southerners are internally displaced within Sudan.