In South Sudan, officials have begun tabulating the results of a two-week-long census, seen as a crucial step toward preparations for elections and a referendum to decide whether the south secedes from Sudan's Arab-dominated government in Khartoum. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from the southern capital Juba, census officials acknowledge that the exercise encountered numerous problems, which may affect the final tally.
The Chairman of Southern Sudan Commission for Census, Statistics and Evaluation, Isaiah Chol Aruai, tells VOA that the 14,000 people deployed across the south for Sudan's national census worked tirelessly to cover as much area as possible.
But he says unforeseen events, bad weather, local conflicts, and logistical problems prevented them from completing their task.
"It might not have achieved to the desire of everybody," he said. "It was difficult because in southern Sudan, we do not have roads. We also had problem of flooding, an influx of returnees. The vehicles we had were not sufficient to cover. In some places, we had cases of insecurity. So, I warn our people and the international community [about] the difficult circumstances under which this census has been undertaken."
The census is a key part of a peace accord signed three years ago to end more than two decades of war between the Arab-led government in Khartoum and southern rebels. The census is to prepare voter registration for next year's elections and its results could determine the ratio of power and wealth-sharing between the north and south in Sudan's unity government.
The census will also be used to determine who is eligible to vote in the south's 2011 referendum on secession. Some of the country's richest oil fields lie in areas claimed by both sides.
The exercise was much-delayed and, with so much at stake, dogged from the beginning by lingering mistrust between authorities in Khartoum and Juba.
In mid-April, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered the census to proceed on April 22 despite a southern government call for a delay. The south then threatened to boycott over concerns that it did not have adequate resources, security, and logistics to carry out a proper census. The government in Juba eventually agreed to allow the census to go ahead, but said it would not be bound by the results.
As counting began in the south, census-takers had to flee fighting between local communities in north Rumbek, which killed more than 100 people. Insecurity and washed out roads also prevented proper canvassing in the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei, the Nuba mountains, and in Western Equatoria State.
A surge in the number of southerners returning home to take part in the census from northern Sudan and neighboring countries also caused headaches for census officials, who did not have enough people to do a thorough count.
A resident in Juba, Michael Ladu Cirillo, says such problems have already prompted some southerners to wonder how accurate the census data will be.
"Like what took place in Rumbek, up to now they have not been enumerated," he said. "So, that is in the mind of people that some people are still not counted."
A complete census report on the south is expected to be released in three to four months.