Birth pains of a new nation plague Southern Sudan

In terms of challenges, southern Sudan faces some mammoth ones in the coming months and years. As if giving birth to a new nation on July 9 were not enough, recent violence and looting in the disputed border town of Abyei is threatening to impede the process.

Men looting food in Sudan.

Men transport sacks of food looted from a compound belonging to the World Food Programme in Abyei, Sudan. REUTERS/Stuart Price

Instability in the area is creating food and fuel crises. Think you’re getting gouged at the pump these days? One of our staff members in Sudan filled his tank yesterday at what was equivalent to $15 a gallon.

All of this is sending tens of thousands of people south. Some are returning “home” after living in the north for as long as a generation. Others are escaping the violence, in search of a new start.

Unfortunately, southern Sudan doesn’t have much to offer its newest residents.

In January, the New York Times reported some staggering statistics about the south.

  • 83 percent of the population lives in rural areas
  • The 3,400 miles of road are virtually unpaved and only passable during the dry season
  • Life expectancy is 42 years
  • 51% of the population lives below the national poverty line of $22 a month
  • Only 1% of households have a bank account
  • Only 1.9% of the population has completed primary school

In terms of development, “There’s almost a blank page,” says World Concern Senior Director of Disaster Response and Security Nick Archer.

We’re approaching these monumental challenges in several ways: meeting an immediate need for food by providing emergency rations of food to returnees, and helping develop an economy through vocational training, small savings groups and village banks.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir addresses the media.

As South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir faces some huge challenges ahead. He's seen here addressing the media in Juba. REUTERS/Paul Banks

“There is a dearth of skilled labor,” says Archer, pointing out this presents another challenge in establishing a new government for South Sudan as well.

“This area [where we work] is really remote. It has almost never had any kind of development. The clock has hardly started ticking,” he said.

But the clock is ticking toward July 9, and according to Archer, there is a window of about three to five years for southern Sudan’s government to demonstrate progress for the country to hold together. “There is a school of thought that if it doesn’t happen within that window, the country could disintegrate.” Ongoing tribal rivalries are primarily to blame for this, he said.

Since stimulating economic activity in Sudan is a critical step in building a new nation – and something we can help with – we’re focusing our efforts on this. Read how savings groups are bringing hope to women in Sudan.

It’s a small start, and development of this magnitude will take time. Please join us in praying for a peaceful, safe birth of this new nation.

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