A difficult birth in South Sudan
We are on the verge of seeing the birth of a new African nation, one that will have emerged through the will of its people. It will be a time of optimism, a time of risk, and a time of opportunities that we should not miss.
Following years of civil war and a referendum in January, South Sudan is poised to become an independent country today.
But what does the future have in store for this, the 196th country of the world? And how can the international community – and every single one of us – raise our own game just enough to honour its aspirations?
I have been to South Sudan twice; the first time was six years ago just after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended 30 years of civil war.
As fate had it, this was also the day the charismatic leader of the revolt, John Garang, died in a mysterious 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 rundown hospital.
I was back in South Sudan three weeks ago as we made preparations to launch a new Red Cross for the world’s youngest nation.
With independence in the air, Juba 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, 78-year-old Arthur Poole, 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 Red Cross.
But the challenges are huge. South Sudan, like the rest of East Africa , faces a crippling food crisis. This is compounded by disputes between South Sudan and its neighbours in North Sudan as they work through the birth pains of a new nation.
We need to respond to the emergency and invest for the future.
Just last week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), launched an emergency appeal to support over 173,000 Sudanese needing humanitarian assistance in South Kordofan and neighbouring states following recent clashes. Many are without food, drinking water and shelter. Looting and violence has destroyed homes and livelihoods, leaving many who fled with little left to go back to.
But as well as applying a sticking plaster, we need to invest to give this new nation a chance – roads, health, agriculture will all make a difference. And innovative humanitarian work that simply fails to attract much public attention for want of its ability to deliver compelling TV footage will need to be funded.
This is about long term support for livelihoods and building resilience to withstand weather extremes; a very far cry from the images of food being doled out among the weak and hungry. In the longer term it is this work that will deliver secure a viable future for South Sudan. And governments, the public and corporate donors all need to get behind it every bit as much as they are prepared to provide emergency relief.
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. With support, we can help them develop a constitution, an operating board a senior management team and critically recruit volunteers to respond to the needs of the people the Red Cross exists to serve.
We must not let this opportunity slip away. While everyone acknowledges the potential, the Independence Day clock seems to be ticking off the seconds to what many fear will be an all too brief hurrah followed by a long hard slog towards an uncertain destination.
The new South Sudan Red Cross deserves an energetic and confident march towards the future. Today, the world should open wide its arms to welcome this new-born nation and recognise its arrival with timely gifts of support and investment to enable it to get on its feet and walk.
For more information, please visit: http://www.redcross.org.uk/foodcrisis
To make a donation to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, visit http://www.dec.org.uk or donate over the counter at any post office or high street bank, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word CRISIS to 70000.
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