09 January, 2011

Center of Attention (for today anyway)

Journalists, celebrities, government dignitaries, and young professionals who think they’re helping to ‘Save the World’. That’s the people I’m seeing and hearing about being around Juba for the momentous occasion of the South Sudan referendum. In case you’re wondering which category I fall into, it’d be the celebrities – you may remember me from the movie Cast Away with my grizzly beard, or years ago when I was getting mistaken for Chuck Norris and Jesus. Although I am clean shaven and could pass through most circles without being noticed.

Having come to South Sudan first in early 2007 and made my first trip to Juba in March of that year, there are so many changes that I see around me. And to think that those who’d been here even just a year or two earlier have seen and witnessed pretty much double the differences that have occurred in the past 4 years. There are people returning who’d been around before, I’m not the only one who couldn’t stay away. But there are definitely a lot of newcomers who are interested in something the world is taking interest in. The struggles and difficulties that this area has undergone since the colonial days normally take up about a paragraph in an article. Most people don’t know more than just the things like the scary statistics I posted just below or the fact that South Sudan has had nearly five decades of mostly conflict prior to the signing of the CPA in 2005. Isn’t Sudan the country where Darfur is also a common reaction when people hear about Sudan. You may know a few other sound bites here and there which are repeated in the media or books.

I’ve come back to try to help improve things, though really that might be happening in spite of my efforts and energies rather than because of them. In two years I didn’t get to know the language, the people, the culture. Yet, I and others know the potential for disaster from the stories we have heard and from the way individuals share their experiences from the decades of conflict. I eagerly await to mark the beginning of a new era. I trust God will teach me, will work through me, and will bring about positive growth on the micro-level regardless of what happens in the macro.

Scary Statistics

Scary Statistics – Southern Sudan[1]
September 2010

· 50.6% of the population live on less than 2.5 SDG a day. Poverty is highest in Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal state with 75.6% of the population living below the poverty line.[2]
· 4.3 million vulnerable people will require food assistance in 2010. Of this number, 1.5 million will face severe food insecurity.[3]

Maternal Mortality
· One out of seven women who become pregnant will probably die from pregnancy-related causes.[4]
· 40.6% of mothers do not receive antenatal care at all.[5]
· Only 10.2% of deliveries are attended by skilled birth attendants.
· There are only 13.6% institutional (hospital) deliveries.[6]
· Contraceptive prevalence is only 3.5%.
· There are only an estimated 100 certified midwives.[7]

Child Mortality
· Although the infant mortality rate has decreased, it still stands at 102 per 1,000 live births.
· While the under-five mortality rate has decreased, one out of every 7 children will die before their fifth birthday (135 per 1,000 live births).

· Southern Sudan has one of the lowest routine immunisation coverage rates in the world.
· Only about 10% of children are fully vaccinated.[8]
· Only 28% of children receive measles vaccination before their first birthday.

· Malaria is considered hyper-endemic in Southern Sudan, accounting for more than 40% of all health facility visits and 80% of household do not have treated bed nets.[9]

· HIV awareness stands at 45.1%, however only 8% have knowledge about HIV prevention.
· More than 70% of women aged 15-49 have no knowledge about HIV prevention.

Water and Sanitation
· More than 50% of the population do not have access to improved drinking water.
· Only 6.4% of the population have access to improved sanitation facilities.

Primary Education
· Less than 50% of all children receive 5 years of primary school education.
· While 1.3 million children are enrolled, only 1.9% complete primary school education.
· For every 1,000 primary school students there is only one teacher.[10]
· 85% of adults do not know how to read or write.[11]

· 92% of women cannot read or write.[12]
· Only 27% of girls are attending primary school.[13]
· A 15 year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than completing school.

Since the beginning of 2010, an estimated 190,000 people have been displaced by inter-ethnic and armed conflicts in Southern Sudan. In 2009, the figure was 391,000 - more than double the number for 2008 which stood at 187,000.[14]

[1] All data unless referenced are from the Sudan Household Survey 2006 t0 2010.
[2] SSCCSE 2010
[3] ANLA Report 2010.
[4] Based on reporting from WHO 2010
[5] WHO Report 2010
[6] WHO Report 2010
[7] MOH Survey 2009
[8] WHO Report 2010
[9] South Sudan MDG Report 2005, UNDP 2006
[10] UNESCO 2009
[11] Alternative Education Systems Unit in the Ministry of Education, UNESCO 2008
[12] Ibid
[13] SSCSE
[14] OCHA EP&R 2010

This is what the anticipated new country of South Sudan is going to have to deal with while also building a nation. Not exactly what you would expect from a country in the year 2011. The challenge of the referendum is only the beginning.


Well, I suppose I’m overdue for an update considering it has been more than 3 months since my last one. Jeff is where you ask? Well, I left Somaliland in early October, spent three weeks in the USA, and arrived back in South Sudan at the beginning of November after over a year and a half away. I now live in Juba with frequent travel to the field sites.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to come back to Sudan to mark an historical moment as the South votes in a referendum of self-determination to decide whether to split off from the North and form their own independent nation. It has been 6 years since the CPA and relative peace came to the South. There were plenty of reasons to doubt whether it would happen, but the first day of voting is now here, and things would seem to indicate that this vote will go off pretty peacefully.

South Sudan Oiyay!