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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 28 January, 2020

Revelry at second anniversary of South Sudan hides severe poverty

Barry Andrews, CEO of GOAL, writes from Juba, South Sudan which is “badly neglected… but a model of modernity in comparison to the rest of South Sudan”.

Irish photographer Julien Behal photographed this elderly woman in April as she waited to be treated in the GOAL clinic in Balliet, South Sudan.
Irish photographer Julien Behal photographed this elderly woman in April as she waited to be treated in the GOAL clinic in Balliet, South Sudan.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Archive/PA Images

THE STREETS ARE hung with bunting and flags. And makeshift bands compete with one another, fighting to be heard above the noise from the crowds of dancing and singing people.

I am in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, and the inhabitants are celebrating their nation’s second birthday. The South Sudanese have travelled a long and arduous road to get to this point, and all the signs are that the years ahead may be no less difficult.

But who would deny these people their right to celebrate: they have their independence, if not much else.

Few countries can have suffered a more difficult birth than the Republic of South Sudan, nor entered the world of free nations with its prospects so poor. It gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011 but only after two civil wars lasting 11 and 17 years respectively, which together cost in the region of three million lives. Millions of other people fled the fighting to neighbouring countries, or were displaced within their own.

It has the air of a city not so much down on its luck, but of one that never had any luck to begin with.

Juba, despite the splashes of colour and the celebratory atmosphere, cannot help but look and feel dilapidated. It has the air of a city not so much down on its luck, but of one that never had any luck to begin with.

Juba was badly neglected, and it shows. Yet it is a model of modernity in comparison to the rest of South Sudan.

Throughout the years of conflict, the southern region of Sudan was discriminated against by central government in the North, and deprived of basic infrastructure. Consequently, at independence South Sudan was, and remains, one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.

It has some of the world’s lowest human and physical development indicators, such as exceptionally high maternal mortality rates; low life expectancy; and a population that is largely illiterate. With few tarmacadam roads, even overland travel is severely restricted.

It’s the rainy season now and many roads are impassable.

Pressure on livelihoods and infrastructure

The population of South Sudan is conservatively estimated as being in the region of 8.5 million, but the emphasis here is on “conservatively”. In truth, a reliable census has never been held, and €73m has been set aside for a census in 2014. This lack of precise numbers is further compounded by the influx of at least three million people during the past eight years.

After a comprehensive peace agreement was reached between Sudan and South Sudan in 2005, two million former refugees returned to the country, putting further pressure on livelihoods and what little infrastructure there was. Another 300,000 people have returned since independence.

If, as seems obvious, the returnees thought that peace had been delivered at last, they were sorely mistaken. On-going tensions between Sudan and South Sudan over disputed territories have resulted in sporadic outbreaks of conflict, and this has driven another 192,000 people across the new border into South Sudan.

As a result of the decades of conflict and discrimination, South Sudan must build an entire infrastructure to cope with the needs of its war-weary and mostly poverty-stricken population. As well as a dearth of medical and education facilities, there is limited access to water and sanitation, and food provision and adequate livelihoods are a major problem.

Aid agencies like GOAL, which has been working in South Sudan since 1998, are doing all that they can to help. During the past six months, for instance, they have provided food and livelihoods support to 821,000 people; carried out 772,000 health consultations; helped 224,000 refugees and 40,000 returnees to rebuild their lives; cleared over 900 km of roads of mines; and put over 22,000 children into emergency education.

Remote, barely accessible camps

However, the United Nations warned last week that aid agencies working in South Sudan will require a further €144m to last until the end of 2013, to help three million people with immediate life-saving projects.

For the past 18 months, GOAL has been delivering emergency aid at two of four refugee camps (that are now home to 117,000 refugees) in the Maban region of South Sudan. The people arrive at these remote, barely accessible camps in very poor physical condition, in dire need of food, water and urgent medical attention.

The celebrations continue apace in Juba, but despite the revelry all around me, I cannot help but worry about the possible fate of this new country. In spite of this, national pride is everywhere. South Sudanese recoil at the judgment that their country is a failed state after just two years. It would be unfair to suggest that all it has to show for independence is flags and bunting, but as yet there is not much else.

Barry Andrews, CEO of GOAL, was writing from Juba in South Sudan.

Irish government gives €2m in funding for Sudan and South Sudan>

Ireland’s overseas development funding continues to drop, remains below UN target>

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About the author:

Barry Andrews

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