UN Peacekeepers Work to Improve Security and Safety on Main Road to Yei
The 160-kilometre journey from the capital of South Sudan to the town of Yei in the south-west of the country should take no more than a couple of hours.
But war and weather have damaged the main route from Juba so badly that it has been largely impassable for months. It is not just the roads that have been washed away in the torrential downpours during rainy season but also important infrastructure, making it impossible for motorists, including traders, to travel safely.
Many of those attempting the journey have ended up stranded for days at a time, creating further blockages with their vehicles and putting their lives at risk with a spate of armed robberies along the road in recent months.
One teacher trying to return to Yei from a Ugandan refugee camp where he lives with his wife and six children was stuck on the road for three days until peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) arrived.
“They assisted us three times, pulling our truck when it was stuck so together we were able to move with them,” said John Wani.
“The road situation is very, very bad and these big trucks are really suffering, especially APCs. The rainy season is very bad for convoys,” said Captain Yirgalem Haile, from the Ethiopian peacekeeping contingent.
Despite the weather, the Ethiopian troops are making another push down the road to map the trouble spots so that their engineers can make the repairs needed to get local traffic moving again.
“The problem is because of the mud and dips we cannot easily estimate how to get through,” said Captain Yirgalem Haile. “The APCs are wider and just cannot be managed by the drivers even though we put them in the right position. If god wills, we may arrive in Yei or not, I do not know.”
It is tough going with large vehicles and armored personnel carriers struggling to make it through let alone smaller UN vehicles. But, with perseverance and plenty of encouragement, the troops are successful, cheering and clapping as all of the vehicles pass through the trouble spots on the way to Yei.
UN civilian staff travelling on the patrol to monitor human rights and to support the peace process in Yei hope that the increased peacekeeping presence along the road will encourage those who fled the area to return.
“This place was inhabited but now it is no longer inhabited. But the UNMISS patrols enable people, the citizens, to feel at least a little bit more secure. And we are told that they are coming back to this area,” said UNMISS child protection officer, Nora Pendaeli. “Obviously the rain makes it a little more difficult for them to come back but hopefully as the rain recedes, this will become more and more evident.”
With the dry season comes fresh hope for the communities along this road as increased security and safer travel creates new opportunities to return to their homes.