This was just sent in from the field by our peacekeeping associate Erin, who is traveling on mission in South Sudan with senior advocate Andrea. Erin and Andrea have been on the road for two weeks now, looking at the situation for returning refugees and displaced persons. They’ve been meeting with non-governmental organizations as well as the UN refugee agency and the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan.
I am sitting in a little tent on the banks of the White Nile in Juba (Sudan) where I am faced with the strange simultaneous realities of thatched mud huts, and wireless internet access. Of course, this is a rare technological exception in a town that has only recently seen the end of some twenty years of conflict.
Juba is the hub of the south—possible future capitol of South Sudan (depending on the results of the planned 2011 referendum on independence) and home to countless UN agencies and NGOs. The ‘international community’ is nowhere to be seen today though…it’s Sunday and it’s raining…hard…again…
In case anyone was wondering, I am here to tell you that “rainy season” is not just a clever name. In fact, in a country with only a handful of paved roads, and virtually no functioning sewage systems, a country in which the majority of people live in homes constructed of mud and straw, the rainy season is a real threat to health and survival.
For the government and international organizations working here, this is a five-month-long logistical nightmare.
Andrea and I recently visited Malakal (a town in Upper Nile state). Our little plane landed just after one of the first big rains of the season, and every road in town was calf deep in water. Even in a 4×4, it was a struggle to move, and while the tuk-tuks and donkey carts were putting up a fight, there’s only so much a donkey can do, you know!?
Like Juba, (and most of southern Sudan) Malakal faces a major shortage of basic services and infrastructure; water, sanitation, health care, and education systems are all well past their breaking points. There is no shortage of new residents though.
In spite of the rains, the poor conditions, and the lack of adequate financial and political support, refugees and IDPs continue to move back towards the south after years, and sometimes decades in camps and temporary residences. This is a positive sign, an indication that the people of southern Sudan have confidence in the peace that has been established here. Unfortunately, this also means that many returnees are facing truly miserable living conditions that are only going to get worse as the rainy season wears on.
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