Engineers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan have begun a major road rehabilitation programme to improve security, enable traders and humanitarians to get food and aid to needy communities, and to build peace.
At a press conference in the capital Juba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer, unveiled the plan, which will involve repairing 2350 kilometers of road – double the work completed last year.
The work, to be carried out by Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian and South Korean peacekeeping engineers, will take place over the dry season.
Fixing the roads will enable UNMISS peacekeeping patrols to go deeper and further into trouble spots such as the Equatorias to deter violence, protect civilians, and give displaced people the confidence to return home.
It will also improve access for local traders and humanitarian agencies getting food and relief supplies to vulnerable communities.
David Shearer said the humanitarian situation in South Sudan was still grim with 1.8 million people displaced and 2 million people having left the country as refugees. Although harvest conditions were good this year, the amount of food harvested was down due to the conflict, which meant people would still need additional food supplies through the World Food Programme.
“One of the reasons that we are focusing on the roads so heavily is that WFP wants to be able to be pre-position more food for next year and it’s much easier to do that by road, than by doing it by air drops, and a lot cheaper,” he said. “So what we are trying to do is to extend the season by which people are able to use the roads by an additional month so that we are able to move more food into those areas where we think people are going to be facing food insecurity.”
“The sooner peace comes, the more we are going to be able to get people back to their own farms, and onto their own land, and that will ease the humanitarian situation.”
South Sudan only has 215 kilometres of tarmac roads in a country the size of France. At independence in 2011, it inherited one of the worst transport infrastructures in the world. A journey from Juba to Bentiu, in the far north of the country, is 1000 kilometres but takes 14-20 days in the dry season. In the rainy season, the road is impassable.
While the primary responsibility for maintaining the road network lies with the Government, UNMISS has stepped in to help because a functioning road infrastructure is vital for economic development.
“If the conflict ends, and I hope it does, infrastructure such as roads will anchor peace by building prosperity,” said David Shearer.
UNMISS has been working with the World Food Programme and UNOPs to develop priorities for road rehabilitation. These agencies will carry out specialist, more permanent, repairs on the critical routes that UNMISS is working on and will rehabilitate a number of other roads, depending on funding from donors.
The main routes to be targeted include the Juba-Bor, Bor-Pibor, Yambio-Mundri, Rumbek-Wau,Kuajok-Bentiu and Malakal-Melut roads. Work already underway on the 150 kilometer Juba-Yei road will be finished soon. This will enable the opening of a new permanent UN peacekeeping base in the area.