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Southern Sudanese Town Receives Public Power Grid


In Southern Sudan, Yei is the first town in the south to receive a public power grid since civil war broke out more than two decades ago. Expectations are high that public electricity will open up a world of possibilities in a post-war southern Sudan.

Every day, Mathias Woja and his colleagues attempt the near impossible - to run a hospital without a constant, reliable source of power.

The administrator of Yei Civil Hospital, which takes patients from southern Sudan, neighboring Uganda and even Democratic Republic of Congo, tells VOA the hospital's generator runs from six in the evening to 11 at night, and from five to eight in the morning. It is occasionally turned on during the day, for emergencies.

Yei Civil Hospital has an X-ray department, which does not function because of the limited power supply. The water pump system, computers, ultra-sound, and other machines operate only sporadically.

"If there's no fuel then we don't have electricity in the hospital," Mr. Woja tells VOA.

"The flow of the patients to the hospital is being [done] throughout the night," said Mathias Woja. "So without electricity you cannot diagnose properly, you cannot see even the condition of the patient. Last time we operated on a lady who is [was] going [through] a caesarian section only using a torch [flashlight] with dry cells [batteries], which is ridiculous. So, by having electricity it will make a very big difference to development in this place."

Discussions are under way to connect Yei Civil Hospital to the town's new power grid, which was officially opened October 1 at a ceremony in Yei's Freedom Square.

At the ceremony, the governor of Central Equatoria State, Major General Clement Wani, switched on streetlights surrounding Freedom Square and in the main business district by pressing a remote-controlled button.

Afterwards, he explained to reporters the impact that a public power source will have on Yei.

"Yei is a business town," he explained. "This means that the businesspeople will go into mechanization and make Yei what it used to be called "small London." And we're aiming for a greater London than the small London which used to be before the war."

The town of Yei, about 15 miles north of the Ugandan border, once had a public power system installed by the Sudanese government in the early 1980's. But the system was destroyed at around the time war broke out in 1983.

Ever since then, the main sources of power in the town of 36,000 residents have been kerosene and diesel, dry cell batteries, wood and charcoal.

Two years ago, the American non-profit organization National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International approached the U.S. Agency for International Development with a proposal to re-electrify Yei.

In June of this year, the association signed an agreement with the American aid agency to install a streetlight grid covering the town's Freedom Square and central market area. The association erected 87 poles connected by wires; 25 streetlights powered by a central generator are now operational, so far.

The association's country director for Sudan, Myk Manon, tells VOA that, within the next four or five months, a larger power station will be installed so that power could be made available for 18 hours a day to businesses and aid agencies.

"We're going to run it like a regular utility," said Myk Manon. "All electricity will have a rate, and we will charge for a connection fee, and to pay an electric bill every month."

Mr. Manon says the next proposal will be to expand power to around 7,000 households in Yei.

And, that possibility has Edina Sudia Onsimon very excited. The owner of a shop called Amen Enterprises shares her dreams with VOA.

"Ya, I want light at my home because I want [to] let it be as here in the shop," said Edina Sudia Onsimon. "If I complete my business here, I will go at home, I'll make another business. At home, I will sell beer and soda. And, yes, even television - I want it."

Town resident Johnson Amule says he thinks the presence of streetlights will cut down on crime in the town.

"We can see light in the streets," he noted. "Last year I was assaulted by thieves during night hours. They hide in dark places. So, when they see light, even moonlight, they don't appear. They don't come to disturb us anymore."

Other benefits of electricity that residents and officials describe to VOA include: more opportunities for students to study at night; cheaper prices for milling grain; higher sanitary conditions due to refrigeration; and less deforestation in the area.

Although Yei is the first town in the south to receive a public power grid since the civil war broke out, it is not the only town in southern Sudan to have public power.

Juba - the headquarters of the southern Sudanese administration - has a public power grid, as do a few other towns whose systems were not destroyed by the war.

The operation of Yei's power grid is expected to be transferred to a local utility authority, sometime next year.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International has the funds to conduct feasibility studies in at least 10 state capitals in southern Sudan.

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