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South Sudan marks ten years with more regrets than achievements

Food insecurity is widespread and 1.4 million children will suffer from malnutrition this year
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When South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after a referendum in 2011, there were hopes for a better life, based mainly on the country's vast natural resources. But the civil war that broke out in 2013 dashed those dreams, and the world's youngest state still cannot be considered a state ten years later.

President Salva Kiir, who has led the country since its birth, promised peace, prosperity and social stability, but for yet another year he has cancelled independence celebrations, banned since 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and in previous years because of a lack of public funds, which affects all sectors.

The deputy information minister, Baba Meda, explained to Efe that this year there will be no official celebrations and that Kiir "will address citizens through state media as part of the precautions taken against the spread of covid-19".

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According to Meda, on its tenth anniversary, South Sudan "is witnessing an improvement in the security situation due to the implementation of the peace deal", which Kiir's government and the armed opposition led by Riek Machar sealed in 2018.

However, many points of the pact remain unimplemented and Meda admitted that "there are numerous challenges that the government and the opposition are trying to address", especially the humanitarian situation with more than 8 million people in need of assistance, according to UN data.

A country dependent on humanitarian aid

Professor of Economics at the University of Juba Abraham Awoulich told Efe that in the past decade the poverty rate has increased by 31% due to several factors, including the war, although according to the United Nations today more people are in need of humanitarian assistance than during the armed conflict (2013-2018).

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According to Awoulich, the absence of "proper planning" by the government and "political instability coupled with corruption of the political elite" led to the "decline of the situation".

Food insecurity is widespread across the territory and 1.4 million children will suffer from malnutrition this year, the highest number since the outbreak of war in 2013, as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned this week.

For her part, Ana Lucia Bueno, in charge of health programmes for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan, explained to Efe that 95% of medical services are supported by international organisations, as the young country does not have the resources to pay workers in the sector and those who are qualified go abroad.

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"Specialised services are virtually non-existent," he added, citing cancer treatment as an example.

Bueno pointed out that "the most complicated thing is for people to get to health centres", for which they have to walk for up to five days, due to geographical barriers and the violence that still affects many remote areas.

Malaria remains the biggest killer in South Sudan, where this year there have also been many cases of polio, in addition to the coronavirus pandemic which, however, has not affected as much as feared, said the aid worker, who has witnessed the country's evolution since 2011, in a telephone interview.

Frustration and hope

The South Sudan Council of Churches lamented in a tenth anniversary message that "South Sudan has reached a level where it is dependent on humanitarian aid provided by international agencies", which it blamed on "bickering among political leaders".

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"Ten years ago we expected our country to witness an era of stability and peace, and everyone was optimistic about the declaration of independence, the birth of the new state was greeted with joy, cheers and tears," the religious body said in a statement.

However, the joy of ten years ago, when South Sudanese celebrated their longed-for independence from Sudan after a long war between north and south, "has turned to great shock and deep frustration," the churches added.

For Peter James Martin, a 44-year-old employee of the Ministry of Education, the tenth anniversary of independence brings back "the spirit of hope in the citizens" after the implementation of the peace agreement.

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Previously they lived in "a state of frustration because of the war and destruction", he told Efe, but now this resident of Juba wished that "political leaders would pay attention to the problems of the citizens" following the agreement that allowed the formation of a national unity government in early 2020.

"We have a deep need to improve our living conditions, we need a social peace that heals the cracks caused by the war between tribes and different groups" in society, he concluded.