Following years of civil war and a referendum in January, South Sudan is poised to become an independent country on 9 July. Chief executive Nick Young recently visited the region to assess progress on the setting up of the South Sudan Red Cross – a brand new National Society. He speaks of challenges that lie ahead.
This is the second time I’ve visited South Sudan. The first was six years ago, just after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended 30 years of civil war, and on the day the charismatic leader of the revolt, John Garang, died in an air crash.
At that time, Juba, the capital of South Sudan, was a small place, with a handful of shops, virtually no made up roads and a run down hospital.
Now, with days to go until independence on 9 July, the town is buzzing. Tarmac has been laid, a new airport terminal is almost complete, roads are being frantically swept clean and holes dug for a few streetlights and some trees. There are lots of shops and restaurants and even some hotels.
At the compound of the South Sudan Red Cross, I meet the acting chief executive, Arthur Poole (78), and his deputy John Lobor. They have both worked incredibly hard over many years and have a clear understanding of the historic significance of the birth of a new National Society.
But the challenges are huge. Disputes between the north and south continue to plague the country and thousands of southerners living in the north could be pushed over the border any day. In addition, there are internal conflicts within the South and a very real risk that these will escalate. There are few roads, no industry or organised agriculture, no infrastructure, no health service outside the main towns, no agreed constitution – not much of anything, really.
As for the South Sudan Red Cross, this too faces a tough road ahead. Expectations of what it can do are likely to be extremely high, but there is no constitution, no operating board or senior management team, no money – and no end to the needs.
We have so far invested £20,000 in a small emergency fund to meet day-to-day running costs. We also have agreed to contribute towards the costs of a country representative from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and have given almost £50,000 towards the construction of a South Sudan Red Cross headquarters. We want to do more – but need to ensure a plan is in place to make the fledgling National Society sustainable.
However, there is a real sense of opportunity slipping away. While everyone acknowledges the potential, the independence day clock seems to be ticking off the seconds to a brief hurrah and then a long hard slog towards an uncertain future.
We mustn’t let this happen. The new South Sudan Red Cross deserves a confident march towards the future.
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Image © Lloyd Sturdy/BRC