Three years ago, millions of people in southern Sudan celebrated as their resounding vote for full independence from Sudan became reality. Since December 2013, South Sudan has been seized by conflict. Almost 1.3 million people have been displaced and around 4 million people face a humanitarian crisis, particularly women and young children.
Pact has been working in Sudan for more than 10 years. Long before South Sudan’s independence, we helped identify water as one of the major causes of conflict. Since that time, we have been working with local partners to mitigate conflict and violence by supplying water, as well as improving sanitation and hygiene and access to justice.
But, as Pact’s country director for South Sudan, I am often frustrated to compare what we see as the country’s critical needs with the collective international response. The international community’s attention is derailed by crises in Syria, Central African Republic, Gaza and elsewhere. Donors and aid workers, who had high hopes at independence, are discouraged by the failure of the government and opposition forces to stop fighting and create a unity government. These challenges, along with aid fatigue and constrained donor budgets, foster the perception that South Sudan is somehow “not worth it” to persist.
South Sudan’s future remains very much “worth it.”
In my time in South Sudan, I have been repeatedly impressed by the courage and dedication of regular citizens to not only work together, but also to find ways to amicably resolve disputes and hammer out practical mechanisms for resolving future disagreements, even when their government cannot. In the Jonglei town of Bor, women from the Dinka and Nuer communities—the two largest ethnic groups and rivals for power in the country —have banded together to protect one another from violence outside the United Nations’ civilian protection camps.
Local communities in two counties in Jonglei, rife with conflict and violence, are developing effective dispute resolution systems. In Uror County, where traditionally there have been tensions between the Murle and Luo Nuer peoples, a dispute resolution process is already up and running. The Anuak and Luo Nuer communities in neighboring Akobo County are following the example of their neighbors.
There’s no disputing that a humanitarian crisis exists in South Sudan. But there is also hope, a glimmer of promise waiting to be radiate across the world’s newest country.
At Pact, we witness daily the determination of local communities to take charge of their futures and improve their lives and well-being.
Today, Pact and our partners continue to support the people of South Sudan with development and humanitarian assistance. It is my hope that the international community finds the will and the means to help build on the many displays of good faith and common sense among the people of South Sudan. We need to show the country that the international community has not forgotten them and that we support those working for a better tomorrow.