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People of Southern Sudan Face Bleak Future with Optimism

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Southern Sudan becomes the world's newest country on July 9. After more than 20 years of civil war, followed by a half decade of uncertain peace, the new country is starting virtually from scratch. The challenges are many, but the level of optimism is high enough to match.

It is a dramatic shift in mentality from short-term survival to long-term planning.

"We come from the bush with no human resources to build a new country, and therefore, we start from zero," said William Deng Deng, chair of the government's Southern Sudan Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission.  "This is a serious challenge because we have to do many things at the same time. First of all, we have to set up the apparatus of the states: the security; the police; the military; and all that, and we have to also set up the diplomatic relationship with the world. We also have to set up the administration that was never there."

Deng Deng is in charge of training and integrating into society 150,000 fighters of the south's former rebel group, the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army, or SPLA. He says it is a daunting task.  

Many former fighters are uneducated and need jobs. The new country's peace and security are at stake.

Joe Feeney, the head of the United Nation's Development Program in Southern Sudan, agrees.

"The most urgent thing is to get rule of law, to have community security so that woman can send her kids to school, she can go to the market without fear of being attacked, and if she is attacked, rule of law means that she can go to a local police station, she can report it, she knows there will be a court there to bring that person to trial if necessary," said Feeney.

With the exception of the Abyei and South Kordofan border areas, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement put an end to wide-scale fighting between north and south. But cattle raiding and other crimes persist.

Cameron Birge is operations manager for the World Food Program's Feeder Road Project.

"Security is still a huge factor," said Birge.  "The cattle raiding has a very large negative impact on a lot of these communities, and we have seen it in some places we have travelled to as well. It is also not just the cattle raiding, but also insecurity on the roads: banditry, robberies, things like that. It is still very prevalent in a lot of these communities. It keeps them from going to the fields.  It keeps communities on edge."

The lack of roads and other infrastructure compound the problem. The country has only about 4,000 kilometers of all-weather roads. Few crops and other goods make it to market centers.  Shortages of basic goods are also common.

International doners provided aid to besieged communities during the civil war. Now the government is trying to break that dependency.

"The food dependency - it is actually there. The government is trying their level best to look into that this relief dependency, there should be a transition, a transition from relief dependency to rehabilitation and development," noted Beda Machar Deng, Undersecretary of Agriculture.

Despite the challenges, there is a sense of optimism among many in Southern Sudan.

"South Sudanese people are very resilient and they need to be helped," said Deng Deng.  "With the support of the international community, we can overcome anything possible. There is no country without challenges. We have a lot of challenges, but there is no doom and gloom here."

That resilience is what the people of Southern Sudan will need in the coming months and years.

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