As South Sudan works with international donors to plan for its future, organizations working in the newly-formed country say a focus on key priorities is necessary to help it overcome chronic poverty and underdevelopment.
Just two months after South Sudan’s independence from Khartoum, the world’s newest nation now faces the difficult task of building itself from almost nothing.
A coalition of 38 humanitarian and aid groups working in South Sudan has released a report listing priorities in need of emphasis by international donors to help build the country successfully.
Africa’s 54th nation is also one of the world’s poorest, with more than half of its citizens living below the poverty line. The country also has very little infrastructure, including less than 100 miles of paved road. But there has been rapid improvement, and increasing investment in the oil-rich nation.
The report, entitled Getting it Right from the Start, focuses as much on economic challenges as urgent humanitarian and social challenges still facing the country. One of the report’s key recommendations is to maintain and even increase humanitarian aid to the many Southern Sudanese who still need it.
“The most important thing is to get the right balance between humanitarian and development assistance," said Surendrini Wijeyaratna, a spokesperson for Oxfam in South Sudan. "There are still emergency context because of localized conflicts, because the country is susceptible to droughts and floods and also because there are still quite a lot of people returning from north Sudan to South Sudan.”
Another area on which the report urges international focus is conflict. South Sudan’s independence is the direct result of a peace agreement reached in 2005 after a 20-year war with Khartoum.
But the end of the bloody civil war has not brought peace and stability to the region. During the past year there have been clashes with northern forces, chiefly over disputed borders in the oil-rich Abyei region. But much of the violence in the South has been local.
As many as five rebel militias have been active in South Sudan since the country elected for independence in January. There is also increasingly frequent inter-ethnic violence between communities over livestock and land. Recent tribal clashes in the Jonglei state in August left more than 600 dead.
The report estimates more than 2,600 people have been killed in violent conflicts this year, while another 275,000 have been displaced.
The constant conflict in South Sudan has crippled both agricultural production and social structures, a problem the coalition says must be addressed or, at least, understood.
“The impact of conflict in South Sudan is pervasive," said the spokesperson. "There has been the legacy of decades of conflict that people here are living with. But also, if you look at the last year, within South Sudan levels of violence are still very concerning.”
Getting it Right from the Start also called for help strengthening the capacity of the government of South Sudan, as well as the country’s civil society. The coalition is urging the development of policies that prioritize the social protection of the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Organizations that signed the report include Oxfam International, the International Rescue Committee and the Danish Refugee Council.