The aid agency said it was vital that continued support be provided beyond the historic vote, as expectations had been raised and there was a danger the fruits of the 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of civil war with the north could yet be squandered.
“The chronic poverty, lack of development and the threat of violence that blight people’s daily lives will not disappear after the referendum,” said Oxfam’s south Sudan chief, Melinda Young, as she presented a report detailing the challenges ahead.
“Whatever the outcome of the vote, these long-term issues need to be addressed. Failure to do so risks undoing any progress made in the past few years,” she said.
Among the stark statistics set out in Oxfam’s report Beyond Sudan’s Big Day are that with just 100 certified midwives to serve an official population of at least 8.2 million, just one in 10 deliveries in the south is attended by a skilled birth attendant – the lowest rate in the world.
The result is that a 15-year-old girl in south Sudan has a higher chance of dying in child birth than finishing her primary school education.One in seven women die during pregnancy, and more mothers die during child birth than anywhere else in the world apart from Sierra Leone.
An estimated 80% of adults – including 92% percent of women – cannot read or write after entire generations missed out on an education during the devastating civil war
But even six years into the peace, few of the 51% of the population who are under 18 receive a proper schooling, and less than two percent of children complete their primary education.
Over half of people do not have access to safe drinking water. They rely on seasonal pools and rivers that are often dirty and spread potentially fatal diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.
Despite the end of the 1983-2005 civil war, in which an estimated two million people died, fighting has forced more than 200 000 people to flee homes in the south in the past year and claimed almost 1 000 lives, Oxfam said.
“The root causes of violence will not go away following the referendum,” its report warned.
Fighting often erupts between ethnic groups due to competition over resources such as cattle, pasture and water points, made worse by unclear land rights.
The head of the United Nations Mission to Sudan for the south, David Gressly, said on Thursday that violent attacks were running at their lowest level since the 2005 peace agreement, creating favourable conditions for last month’s voter registration and the run-up to polling in the referendum.
“For the last several weeks – several months probably – we have seen the lowest level of insecurity in southern Sudan since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has been signed,” he said.
But the Oxfam report took issue with the peacekeeping mission’s focus, saying it should devote fewer resources to the referendum and more to the protection of civilians.