, JUBA, Aug 19 – South Sudan must prepare for a "real crisis," whatever the outcome of an upcoming referendum on the potential partition of Africa\’s largest country, the south\’s humanitarian minister warned on Thursday.
Aid agencies and the United Nations should be ready to cope with massive displacement of southerners, said James Kok Ruea, Juba\’s minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management.
"The needs will be enormous, so we will need your support," said Ruea, speaking in the southern capital to a room crowded with the heads of UN and international aid agencies. "We have to be ready, we have to have plans."
The south is expected in January 2011 to vote in a referendum set up under a 2005 peace deal, which promised it the chance to choose independence or to remain part of a united Sudan.
South Sudan is still recovering from decades of war with the north, during which about two million people were killed in a conflict fuelled by religion, ethnicity, ideology and resources, including oil.
Ruea put forward three possible scenarios following the vote, each with massive humanitarian demands.
If independence, preparations must be made to support the estimated 1.5 million southerners in the north, who may then return to the south, Ruea said.
"We will be faced by the coming of the refugees – we will be faced by the people who are now living in the north," said Ruea. "People will be coming, and we will not be prepared."
Tensions remain high between the mainly Muslim north and the grossly underdeveloped south, most of whose inhabitants are Christian or follow traditional beliefs.
If unity, disappointed southerners – the vast majority of whom appear to support separation – will probably react in anger, said Ruea.
"There will be disappointment, and that disappointment would also (lead to) crisis," he said.
"People would not want to be in a system of destabilization, Islam-ization, Arab-ization and marginalisation."
And if the vote is blocked or disrupted, Ruea warned of dire consequences.
"If the Islamic system in the north decided to interrupt the smooth running of the referendum, then what do you think the situation is going to be?"
"There will be tension and likely it will go back to war," the southern official said.
The south is already struggling with several armed clashes this year between rival groups.
At least 700 people have been killed and more than 152,000 forced from their homes due to violence in the south since January, according to UN estimates.
"What happens when fighting takes place? People are killed, properties are lost, the most vulnerable group are children, women, and elderly people. There would be massive displacement," Ruea warned.