April 4, 2011 (JUBA) — The urge to boost food security in South Sudan may be a key government priority, but efforts to make this a reality are still being undermined by the existence of landmines in most of the region's vast areas, local officials say.
Speaking at an occasion to mark international mine awareness day in South Sudan's capital Juba, Madut Akol, a field coordinator at Sudan Integrated Mine Action Service (SIMAS) said unless these landmines are cleared, achieving food security needs of the southern population may be a myth than reality.
"We are all aware that the biggest numbers of returnees and IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] have already arrived in South Sudan's 10 states. I would say there is no shortcut, unless land mines are removed to enable local population produce enough food," said Akol.
SIMAS, he emphasized, has successfully completed mine clearance operation in the region's worst affected areas of Liria town, located about 40km southeast of Juba. Currently, he added, the organization has embarked on the highly contaminated areas of Loggo east, where some anti-tank landmines have reportedly been detected and destroyed.
Over the years, however, the organization has worked in close collaboration with key partners such a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mine Action Group (MAG) and UN Mine Action Office (UNMAO), among others in providing mine risk education and guidance to various communities.
In 2010, according to UNICEF, more than 80,000 people reportedly received information on protection from mines and the promotion of safe behaviors, while addition 157,000 were reportedly reached with mine risk education through public media.
Akol further cited financial constraints and inadequate technical support as major challenges to the organization's normal operations, adding that the process of clearing landmines require the collective involvement of all stakeholders, government and partners.
"It's my hope and indeed the hope of all the national NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] that 2011 will be different and full of good things. We expect that South Sudan Demining Authority will make efforts to provide us with funding," he said.
Founded in 1999 by ex-Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) senior officers, SIMAS has been conducting mine action campaign up to the time when Sudan's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed. To-date, the organization remains the only accredited national mine action organization in the semi-autonomous region, after it was fully recognized by the in 2007.